Personal Injury

Plant explosion earns New Hampshire manufacturers hefty OSHA fines

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited two New Hampshire companies for violating workplace safety standards after a January 23 explosion rocked a plant in Nashua. Combined penalties against the two employers — Worthen Industries Inc., a manufacturer of glues and adhesives, and S.L. Chasse Welding & Fabrication Inc., a steel erection contractor, amount to $257,500.

The explosion occurred when flammable vapors ignited while S.L. Chasse workers were installing a new motor on a vessel used in Worthen’s Nashua plant. OSHA inspectors found that Worthen had not cleaned the vessel thoroughly enough to ensure the absence of flammable materials or vapors, and had not vented it prior to allowing welding to be performed.

OSHA cited Worthen with one willful violation with a proposed fine of $63,000. According to OSHA, a willful violation is committed when an employer displays plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.

“Welding should not have been permitted until all feasible steps had been taken to remove flammable materials and the potential for ignition,” said Rosemarie Ohar, OSHA’s area director for New Hampshire. “This problem, combined with numerous additional safety and health hazards identified at the Worthen plant, account for the sizable proposed fines.”

OSHA identified numerous other hazards at the plant, including an incomplete and inadequate process safety management program, fall hazards from an unguarded mezzanine and floor openings, accumulations of ice on exit stairs, a variety of electrical hazards, lack of personal protective equipment and tools for workers, an incomplete and inadequate respiratory protection program, inadequate chemical hazard communication, not conducting initial monitoring for employee exposure to formaldehyde and methylene chloride, and incomplete illness and injury logs.

The dangerous conditions at the plant resulted in 48 serious and five other citations for Worthen with $162,400 in additional fines. OSHA issues a serious citation 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. Worthen’s fines total $225,400.

S.L. Chasse was cited for inadequately training its workers to recognize potential chemical, fire, explosion or toxic release hazards and appropriate protective work practices, and allowing welding to be performed where a flammable atmosphere was present. Other citations addressed lack of fall protection and machine guarding, and incomplete injury and illness logs. These conditions resulted in eight serious and six other-than-serious citations, with $32,100 in fines for Chasse.