OSHA cites Formosa for May 2 fire that injured 14 workers

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

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

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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