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OSHA cites Formosa for May 2 fire that injured 14 workers

By Elena Watts
Nov. 23, 2013 at 5:23 a.m.
Updated Nov. 24, 2013 at 5:24 a.m.


Types of OSHA violations

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. OSHA may propose a mandatory penalty up to $7,000 for each serious violation.

A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowledge or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements or with plain indifference to worker safety and health. OSHA may propose penalties up to $70,000 for each willful violation.

An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm. OSHA may propose a penalty up to $7,000 for each other-than-serious violation.

A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. OSHA may propose penalties up to $70,000 for each repeat violation. To be the basis of a repeat citation, the original citation must be final.

A failure-to-abate notice applies to a condition, hazard or practice not corrected upon reinspection, and the penalty is the same as was originally cited.

Source: OSHA public affairs

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a citation categorized as serious to Formosa Plastics Corp. for the May 2 fire that injured 14 men.

The Point Comfort plastic resins and petrochemicals plant has accepted the $7,000 citation, which was issued Nov. 1.

Formosa reports its annual revenue to exceed $5 billion, according to the company's website.

Company officials are in the process of preparing steps to prevent the hazard from recurring, OSHA public affairs representative Diana Petterson wrote in an email Friday.

Contractor employees were building scaffolding around a vessel when a fire erupted in the plant's ethylene purification unit.

Formosa failed to have procedures in place to ensure the control of hazardous energy that would pose a threat to employees if released, according to the OSHA investigation.

The employer also failed to meet its obligation to establish a safe method to ensure the effectiveness of those procedures.

Formosa Plastics conducted its own investigation of the fire, and company officials released their preliminary findings Thursday.

The fire occurred during the second stage of a three-stage ethylene purification unit, which had been out of service since 1995, according to Formosa's news release.

The equipment was scheduled for removal to make room for an expansion of the unit. The pressure relief system had been disabled because of its pending removal.

About 10:30 a.m. May 2, the column was tested in preparation for its removal, which was scheduled for the next day. The oxygen level was normal, according to the Formosa report.

Historical data showed a 15-degree temperature increase about the same time the test was performed. Data also showed that the column's pressure indicator went off the scale at 455 pounds per square inch about 1:30 p.m. The column's maximum-rated pressure was 427 psi.

Oxygen might have entered the column during the period it was sampled for hydrocarbon presence, which initiated the explosion that injured nearby workers, according to the Formosa report.

On June 14, Steven Vasquez, an employee of Palacios Marine and Industrial who was injured in the fire, filed a lawsuit against Formosa.

He and Jose Campos were airlifted to the burn unit at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston after the fire.

Chris Doehrman was taken to San Antonio Military Medical Center for burns, and two other workers were sent to the intensive care unit at Citizens Medical Center.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not yet released findings from another Formosa fire that injured five workers Sept. 13.

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