OSHA Finds Welders Were Unaware of Explosive Fumes before Blast

The blast killed a temporary worker and critically injured another

According to a report from OSHA, two temporary workers hired to cut and weld pipes at the Omega Protein plant in Moss Point, Mississippi, on July 28, 2014, had no idea and had no training to know that the storage tank beneath them contained explosive methane and hydrogen sulfide gases. A 25-year-old man died when the tank exploded and another was hospitalized with a fractured skull, internal injuries and broken bones.

OSHA investigated the incident and found that four companies violated safety regulations that could have prevented the tragedy. The companies are Accu-Fab & Construction Inc., Omega Protein, JP Williams Machine & Fabrication, and Global Employment.

"The Omega Protein plant explosion shines a spotlight on how critical it is for employers to verify, isolate and remove fire and explosion hazards in employee work areas," said Eugene Stewart, OSHA's area director in Jackson. "If the employer ensured a safe environment, this tragic incident could have been prevented."

OSHA issued 13 citations to Omega Protein, a producer of omega-3 fish oil and specialty fish meal products, for willful, repeated and serious safety violations. OSHA issued a willful citation for exposing employees to fire and explosion hazards due to Omega management's failure to inform Accu-Fab that the storage tank contained wastewater that could generate hydrogen sulfide and methane gases, which can be highly explosive and toxic, even at low concentrations. The repeated violations involve not having standard railings on open-sided floors and platforms and failing to label electrical boxes properly.

OSHA cited Accu-Fab for one willful, four serious and two other-than-serious violations. The willful violation was issued for failure to train workers on chemical hazards in the work area, such as hydrogen sulfide, methane, welding gas and paints. Global Employment Services was issued a serious citation for this same hazard. Additionally, both employers were cited for a serious violation for failure to instruct employees about avoiding unsafe work conditions. Accu-Fab was also cited for failure to ensure employees working on top of a storage tank at heights of up to 29 feet were wearing fall protection and for not recording this fatality or two other recordable injuries.

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