Fatal Confined-Space Explosion Leads to Penalties for Polymer Plant

OSHA has cited Thermal Polymer Systems LC of Angleton, Texas, following an explosion inside a permit-required confined space that killed one worker and injured two others. Penalties for the violations total $161,600.

"This company exposed its workers to the hazards of confined space entry," said Mark Briggs, OSHA's area director for the Houston South Area Office. "In this case, the ventilation system was not on to remove the flammable and toxic vapors of the primer being used by the employees, and the internal atmosphere of the tank was not being monitored with a combustible gas meter to alert the employees that the atmosphere was becoming toxic and inflammable."

The company provides chemically resistant polymer coating technology for industrial and commercial applications. OSHA issued citations alleging four willful and 28 serious violations following an investigation that began January 28 when two workers were burned while applying primer inside a tanker trailer. One worker died and another remains hospitalized with burns to more than 90 percent of his body. A third worker, the attendant monitoring the confined space in the event of an emergency, was blown off the tank when the vapors ignited.

The willful violations were for failing to eliminate and control hazardous atmospheres, such as flammable gas, through ventilation; complete confined space entry permits; use intrinsically safe lights in hazardous locations; and annually fit-test employees for respirator use. A willful violation is one where there was intentional disregard for safety and health.

Serious violations include failing to mark exits; ensure flammables storage areas had self-closing doors; conduct workplace hazard assessments; monitor, evaluate, and annually review and retain records for the confined spaces; implement a hearing conservation program, and secure compressed cylinders. A serious violation is one that could cause death or serious physical harm to employees when the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.

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

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