A federal safety inspection of a New York cosmetics plant last year foretold a Nov. 20 explosion and fire that killed one worker and injured 125 others.
According to the (Middletown, NY) Times Record-Herald, cosmetics manufacturer Verla International LLC was hit with a multitude of safety violations between 2013 and 2016, most of which the agency classified as serious.
One 2016 violation involved the New Windsor company’s failure to properly store and ground flammable-liquid containers and their pouring nozzles to prevent static electricity and the potential for sparks, which could ignite the volatile chemicals.
And that is what happened on Nov. 20. According to the Times Record-Herald, surveillance video from the Verla plant shows a barrel of the highly flammable chemical hexamethyldisiloxane (HMDZ) suspended from a metal arm as it drains the liquid into another container.
A factory worker enters the video frame after a few seconds and begins wiping the tank to remove some of the chemical residue, creating a static spark that jumps to the containers holding the HMDZ. A fire breaks out and the worker starts to run away as the containers explode.
Kyle Angjelo, a New Jersey chemist and independent safety consultant, told the Times Record-Herald that the deadly accident was entirely preventable.
“Pouring out a container of HMDZ is commonly known to create a lot of static discharge,” Mr. Angjelo told the Times Record-Herald. “It’s a really cheap and simple fix for the company to ground (the tank, the barrel and the metal arm). The incident calls into question the company’s administrative controls and its engineering controls.”
Mr. Angjelo also told the Times Record-Herald that there may have been other serious safety lapses, such as lack of employee training, proper documentation of chemical-transfer protocols, a safety consultant on the Verla staff, and a chart documenting risk-prevention steps for each of its work tasks.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the explosion and safety issues at Verla, but that probe is expected to take at least six months.
According to the Times Record-Herald, Verla produces and packages a multitude of private-label cosmetics for other companies and is one of the largest nail polish manufacturers in the world. The company also sells makeup to retailers and direct-sales companies and offers cosmetics marketing, product development, and design services.
Approximately 53,000 square feet of the Verla plant remain functional and an unknown number of the company’s 225 employees are expected to return to work. Others are unemployed because they worked in the 19,000 square-foot section that was destroyed in the blast, the Times Record-Herald reported.