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Region 4 News Release: USDOL: 00-50
Friday, March 03, 2000
Contact: Lana S. Graves
PHONE: (334) 441-6131or6338
CELANESE CHEMICALS FINED $250,000 FOR SAFETY VIOLATIONS AT BUCKS, ALABAMA, PLANT
The U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration today simultaneously issued citations and signed a settlement agreement with Celanese Chemicals, Bucks, Alabama. The employer agreed to accept five unclassified violations of OSHA standards with assessed fines totaling $250,000.
The settlement follows an OSHA inspection of an accident that caused one fatality and one serious injury. The accident occurred at the Bucks facility after an unplanned power failure on September 4, 1999.
According to Lana Graves, OSHA's Mobile area director, "As a result of the power outage, sodium hydrosulfite in one of the dryers in the Hydro Unit of the plant began to rapidly decompose, releasing dangerous sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gases. Several employees working in the area donned self contained breathing apparatuses and tried unsuccessfully to stop the decomposition by flooding the dryer with water."
Graves explained that two of the employees, exhausted by their emergency response efforts, entered the control room, a place they considered to be safe, and removed their self contained breathing apparatuses. "Upon restoration of power to the plant, toxic gases were drawn into the control room through a hole in the ventilation system, exposing both employees to high levels of toxic gases." One of the employees died instantly and the other is currently hospitalized in a long-term care facility.
OSHA's investigation of the accident found five violations of safety standards, two of which fell under the OSH Act's General Duty Clause. These included:
failure to provide a source of backup electrical power so that dryers could be positioned, exhaust fans could operate, and the control room's ventilation system could be adequately maintained to ensure the integrity of its atmosphere in the event of a total power failure or process abnormalities;
- lack of an adequately designed water deluge system that would safely control and dispose of the dryer contents in the event of an unplanned decomposition, and failure to calibrate the dryer thermometers in accordance with the employer's written procedures.
The remaining three citations were issued for failure to provide fall protection in the form of scaffolds for employees working three stories above ground level; not providing adequate refresher training for emergency responders and incident commanders as required by the emergency response standard, and failure to provide adequate training to employees, contractors, and outside emergency responders regarding the physical, chemical, and health hazards of the hazardous materials being used in the work area and their decomposition products such as hydrogen sulfide.
All of the cited violations were corrected by the employer prior to issuance of the citations and signing of the settlement agreement.
As part of the settlement, Celanese Chemicals agreed to hire an outside consultant to conduct an independent investigation of the accident, results of which will be shared with OSHA; contribute $25,000 to local emergency medical services to be used as needed for equipment and other improvements; report to OSHA's Mobile Area Office, for the period of one year, all events involving decomposition of sodium hydrosulfite resulting in an incident investigation; conduct annual mock emergency response drills, including evaluation by emergency response experts and written reports of effectiveness; ensure availability of telephone service within the plant at all times; produce, and present at an appropriate industry meeting, a position paper entitled "Lessons Learned" regarding the incident that occurred on September 4, 1999, and pay the assessed fine of $250,000 within 30 days of the signing of the agreement.
"We worked with Celanese Chemicals to reach an agreement that provides safety enhancements for company employees, the chemical industry and the general community," said Graves. "Hopefully, these commitments by the employer will provide information that can be used to identify probable causes and determine appropriate methods to prevent and control similar incidents in the future.
"We think this agreement provides a more significant impact than just issuance of conventional citations. It also demonstrates OSHA's efforts to see new ways for advancing the cause of safety without the potential cost and burden of lengthy litigation."
Inspection of the worksite was conducted by OSHA's area office located at 3737 Government Blvd., Suite 100, Mobile AL. 36693; telephone: (334) 441-6131.
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