Personal Injury

Safety violations result in deadly explosion, $1.2 million fine

A New Hampshire gunpowder substitute manufacturer faces federal fines of $1.2 million following a deadly plant explosion in May that killed two workers who had been on the job for just a month. Officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted an investigation of Black Mag LLC’s facilities to determine the cause of the blast and found dozens of workplace safety and health violations, including failure to prohibit smoking in the facility and other basic safety and security measures.

“The fines levied here pale in comparison to the value of the two lives lost,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. “Nonetheless, this was a tragedy that easily could have been prevented had the employer valued the health and safety of its employees. Employers should not sacrifice their workers’ lives for a profit, and no one should be injured or killed for a paycheck.”

According to OSHA, on May 14, the two workers and a plant supervisor were manufacturing a gun powder substitute known as Black Mag powder when the explosion occurred. The workers had been required to hand feed powder into operating equipment without essential protective controls in place.

The employer also chose not to implement remote starting procedures, isolate operating stations, establish safe distancing and erect barriers or shielding — all of which are absolutely vital for the safe manufacture of explosive powder. Additionally, the employer chose not to provide the personal protective equipment and other safety measures its employees needed to work safely with such a hazardous material.

OSHA said its findings amounted to citations for 4 egregious willful violations, 12 willful violations, 36 serious violations, and two other-than-serious violations. Total penalties amounted to $1,232,500.

“Even after a prior incident in which a worker was seriously injured, and multiple warnings from its business partners and a former employee, this employer still decided against implementing safety measures,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels.

“Unfortunately, we see this kind of disregard time and time again across industries. All employers must find and fix workplace hazards so these types of avoidable tragedies don’t happen, and workers can return home safely at the end of the day,” Dr. Michaels added.

OSHA considers willful citations egregious when more than one worker is exposed to a single hazard. The citation issued for that hazard is then multiplied by the number of workers exposed. In the case of Black Mag LLC, the four egregious willful citations were issued for the failure to train each of the four workers involved in the manufacture of the gun powder substitute. In addition to the two workers killed and their supervisor, there was an additional employee who left the job nine days before the explosion.

Other willful citations were issued for the failure to locate operators at safe locations while equipment was operating; separate workstations by distance or barriers and ensure that each worker was properly trained; provide adequate personal protective equipment, such as fire resistant clothing, face shields and gloves; safely store explosive substances; and identify explosion hazards in the company’s operating procedures. 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.