$917,000 in Proposed Fines Against Bostik Inc. Following Explosion

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Bostik Inc. for 50 alleged violations of workplace safety standards following a March 13 explosion at the company's Middleton plant in which four workers were injured. The adhesives manufacturer faces a total of $917,000 in proposed fines.

OSHA's inspection identified several serious deficiencies in the company's process safety management program, a detailed set of requirements and procedures employers must follow to proactively address hazards associated with processes and equipment that involve large amounts of hazardous chemicals. In this case, the chemical was acetone, used in a PSM-covered process known as direct solvation. On the day of the explosion, a valve on a transfer line inadvertently was left open, resulting in the release of flammable acetone vapors. The vapors exploded after being ignited by an undetermined source.

"The requirements of OSHA's PSM standard are stringent and comprehensive because the stakes are so high," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "Failure to evaluate, anticipate, address and prevent hazardous conditions associated with a process can result in a catastrophic incident such as an explosion."

"In this case, Bostik knew from prior third party and internal compliance audits conducted at the plant that aspects of its PSM program were incomplete or inadequate, and misclassified electrical equipment was in use. The company did not take adequate steps to address those conditions," said Jeffrey A. Erskine, OSHA's area director for northeastern Massachusetts. "Luckily, the explosion happened when there were few workers in the plant. Otherwise, this incident could have resulted in a catastrophic loss of life."

Specifically, OSHA found that the process safety information for the solvation process was incomplete. The employer's analysis of hazards related to the process did not address previous incidents with a potential for catastrophic results, such as forklifts that struck process equipment, and did not address human factors such as operator error, communication between shift changes and employee fatigue from excessive overtime. In addition, the company did not ensure that a forklift and electrical equipment, such as a light fixture, switches and a motor, were approved for use in Class 1 hazardous locations where flammable gases or vapors are present.

As a result, OSHA has issued Bostik nine willful citations, with $630,000 in proposed fines, for these conditions. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Bostik Inc. also has been issued 41 serious citations, with $287,000 in fines, for a range of other conditions, including an incomplete and deficient emergency response plan, inadequate training for employees required to fight fires, obstructed exit access and electrical hazards, and additional PSM deficiencies. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

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