Explosion at Tonawanda Coke Corp. results in serious safety violations and
$161,100 in US Department of Labor OSHA fines
Permanent, temporary workers exposed to preventable fire, chemical, mechanical hazards
BUFFALO, N.Y. – Tonawanda Coke Corp. and Kirchner LLC face a total of $161,100 in fines from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration following an explosion that occurred Jan. 31, 2014, at the 3875 River Road plant in Tonawanda. The explosion collapsed brick walls, damaged electrical equipment and injured two permanent plant employees and one temporary employee.
The explosion was caused by an overpressured coke oven manifold, which released coke oven gas in an enclosed area where it ignited. The flare stack, used to burn off excess coke oven gas, failed. OSHA determined that this exposed Tonawanda Coke employees to asphyxiation from the release of gas, and explosion and fire hazards. OSHA concluded that the company failed to inspect and maintain safety systems properly to ensure their effectiveness.
"Had this company taken proper precautions and ensured that safety systems were working, this explosion would not have occurred. Equally disturbing, however, are the additional, preventable hazards the employer allowed at the plant," said Michael Scime, OSHA's area director in Buffalo. "These conditions exposed workers to potential amputations, falls, crushing injuries, injury by unexpectedly activated machinery and an inability to exit the workplace swiftly if fire, explosions or other emergencies arose."
The additional hazards included missing guardrails; obstructed emergency exit routes* and a defective exit door; failure to lockout* machines' power sources before performing maintenance; use of uninspected cranes, lifting ropes and unguarded saws; improperly stored oxygen cylinders; and failure to determine employees' levels of exposure to the hazardous substance hexavalent chromium* and training them about its hazards.
These conditions resulted in the issuance of 15 serious violations with $90,100 in fines. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm could result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.
The company was issued two repeat violations, with $70,000 in fines, for recurring hazards, failing to train employees in lockout procedures and not certifying inspections of lockout procedures. OSHA had cited Tonawanda Coke for similar hazards in October 2010. The company was fined $1,000 for failing to provide voltage markings on electrical equipment.
The citations may be viewed here*.
Tonawanda Coke produces foundry coke, a coal byproduct. Kirchner LLC is a company that provides temporary workers. The companies have 15 business days from receipt of their citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Buffalo Area Office at 716-551-3053.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
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