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Region 4 News Release: USDOL: 02-131
Monday, July 15, 2002
Contact: Jo Anne Burgoyne
Phone: (404) 562-2076
for Alabama Paper Mill
ATLANTA --- Failure to protect contract workers from exposure to high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas at a Pennington, Ala., paper mill has resulted in citations being issued today to the Fort James Operating Company, Inc., by the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Proposed penalties total $91,000.
On Jan. 16, contract employees were replacing a pipe rack in the chemical wash area of the plant. As they worked, sulfuric acid and wastewater, released simultaneously into the sewer system, combined to form high levels of hydrogen sulfide gas which escaped through a manhole cover, killing two workers and injuring eight others.
The company received a willful citation with a proposed penalty of $70,000 for failing to protect workers by installing engineering devices to control the addition of chemicals into the sewer system and to prevent accidental releases.
OSHA also issued three serious citations with proposed penalties totaling $21,000 for failing to: tell contractors and their employees of the potential for hazardous chemicals in the area; provide chemical detection monitors; and install an alarm system to alert employees of a hazardous gas release.
"Adding to the tragedy of these deaths and injuries is the fact that they could have been avoided," said Lana Graves, OSHA's Mobile area director. "Anticipating and preventing accidents is key to a safe work place."
OSHA issues a willful citation when the alleged violation is committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.
The agency defines a serious violation as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew or should have know of the hazards. The Fort James facility and parent company, Georgia-Pacific, facilities have been cited by OSHA in the past.
The company has 15 working days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
The accident investigation was conducted by the Mobile, Ala., OSHA office located at 3737 Government Blvd., Suite 100; telephone: (251) 441-6131.
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