OSHA fines Wisconsin company $787,000 following June explosion

RP news wires

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration on December 14 cited the hazardous waste management processor, WRR Environmental Services Company, for failing to implement measures to prevent potentially catastrophic chemical fires and explosions at its facility in Eau Claire, Wis. OSHA has issued 14 willful and one serious citation to the company with proposed penalties of $787,000 for failing to fully develop and implement a process safety management program at the facility. This action stems from the agency's investigation of a June 29 explosion and fire at the facility.

"WRR Environmental Services put its workers in grave danger, and it is truly fortunate that no one was killed or severely injured in these incidents. The company's blatant disregard for workers' health and safety is not acceptable," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.

"Even after WRR Environmental Services experienced a devastating fire that destroyed the facility in 2007, the company still failed to implement an adequate program to ensure safe operating conditions," added Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels.

The June 29 explosion and fire was likely caused when an ignition source within a solvent sludge feed tank ignited flammable solvent vapors, blowing the roof off of the tank and igniting its contents. A neighboring tank also exploded. Employees had been working in the area of the solvent sludge feed tank immediately prior to the explosion. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries.

OSHA has issued WRR Environmental Services Company 14 willful citations with proposed fines of $784,000. The citations allege an intentional disregard of the elements of the PSM standard, including failure to implement and provide required process safety information such as engineering drawings and materials of construction; failure to implement process hazard analyses, operating procedures and training; failure to perform pre-startup safety reviews and inspections and tests on process equipment; equipment deficiencies; failure to implement change management procedures; and failure to conduct incident investigations. 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.

WRR Environmental Services Company, which currently employs more than 50 workers, has been inspected by OSHA five times since 1991. In 2007, a fire and explosion destroyed most of the facility including the solvent sludge recycling processes. As a result of those inspections, the company admitted to 30 serious and four other-than-serious safety violations.

As a result of OSHA's most recent inspection, the company also has received one serious citation with proposed penalties of $3,000 for alleged deficiencies in its emergency action plan. A serious citation is issued 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.

This investigation falls under the requirements of OSHA's Severe Violators Enforcement Program. Initiated in the spring of 2010, SVEP is intended to focus on recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. For more information on SVEP, go to http://www.osha.gov/dep/svep-directive.pdf.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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