Zodiac fined $1.3M for explosion

Video of original story 7/15/15, USA Today

Update From: http://www.bonnercountydailybee.com/

Report: 11 days prior to incident, plant evacuated due to flammable vapors

NEWPORT, Wash. — Zodiac Cabin & Structures Support has been fined more than $1 million for workplace safety and health violations following the investigation of an explosion that rocked the Newport facility and injured 17 workers last July.

After a nearly six-month investigation, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries fined the employer $1,316,000 and cited them with 17 willful violations for knowingly exposing workers to the risk of serious injuries.

“Each citation mentioned in the Labor and Industry report is being reviewed with attention and will be shared across all of our sites,” Zodiac Aerospace said in a press release. “Every company of the Zodiac Aerospace Group remains committed to ensuring a workplace free of recognized hazards consistent with our Corporate Health Safety and Environmental Policy.”

The release added that while the investigation was underway, Zodiac Aerospace has undertaken various measures to review and identify potential workplace hazards and implement precautions to enhance safety.

The L&I investigation concluded that the explosion could have been prevented if Zodiac had used required safety interlocks and safeguards to ensure that the curing oven was used safely and as advised in a consulting engineer’s report.

Each violation carries the maximum penalty of $70,000.

“Had this explosion occurred during the day when many more workers were present, there could have been many more injuries and possibly even deaths,” said Anne Soiza, L & I Assistant Director of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “As it is, 17 people were injured and their lives put at risk from an incident that was highly predictable given the operating conditions.”

The blast occurred shortly before 9 p.m. on July 14, 2015, and caused one entire floor to collapse on top of another, windows were shattered and doors were blown off their hinges. Residents at the scene reported hearing the blast from as far away as a mile.

Shortly after the explosion a chemical odor was detected in the area and an evacuation of 1,000 feet was implemented. The evacuation was lifted six hours later after investigators determined the chemical odor had dissipated over time and no longer posed a risk to the public.

Chemicals including acetone and alcohol were believed to be on site and although a hazardous materials team from Spokane was dispatched, they were recalled before arriving.

Of the 17 employees injured two were transported via Life Flight to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash.

Linda Bergerson, 68 of Oldtown, was listed in serious condition and at the time and Christina Giannone, 33 of Newport, was listed in stable condition.

Along with the willful violations, L&I cited the company for 18 serious violations, all with the maximum penalty of $7,000 because of the high potential for death or permanent serious harm.

Due to the danger of an explosion, specific safety interlock controls and other safety procedures were supposed to be in place before the highly flammable resins were used in the 90-foot drying oven. Those controls were not in place, despite the fact that zodiac had advice from its contracted consulting engineer detailing the steps needed to ensure safe operation prior to using the flammable uncured resins.

The investigation found that flammable resins had been run through the oven a number of times prior to the explosion. L & I also discovered that 11 days before the incident, the plant was evacuated due to flammable vapors that created a risk of explosion in the same operation.

Four of the serious violations were for not ensuring effective control procedures were in place to protect workers when they had to reach inside the curing oven for cleaning, service or maintenance.

The company was also cited for eight “confined space” serious violations related to employees entering the 90-foot oven to perform cleaning, service or maintenance. Working inside a confined space area, such as the oven, without safety precautions can be deadly to both workers and rescuers. Confined space hazards can include suffocation, toxic atmospheres, entrapment and other dangerous conditions that are fully preventable.

An additional six violations were related to failing to prevent ignition of flammable vapors and protect workers from inhaling harmful vapors and chemicals, such as from solvent and formaldehyde.

As a result of the willful violations, the company has been identified as a severe violator and will be subject to follow-up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist in the future.

The employer had 15 days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Zodiac is one of the world’s largest suppliers of aircraft interiors to airplane manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus. The Newport plant is part of Zodiac’s “cabin and structures” division and makes components for cabin interiors.

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