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Gun powder manufacturer fined $1.2 million, issued 54 citations after deadly explosion

October 28, 2010
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OSHA has issued 54 workplace safety and health citations with penalties totaling $1.2 million to gun powder substitute manufacturer Black Mag LLC, following an investigation into the causes of a deadly explosion in May at the company's worksite in Colebrook, N.H., according to an agency press release. The explosion took the lives of two workers who had been on the job for only a month.

"The fines levied here pale in comparison to the value of the two lives lost," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Nonetheless, this was a tragedy that easily could have been prevented had the employer valued the health and safety of its employees. Employers should not sacrifice their workers' lives for a profit, and no one should be injured or killed for a paycheck."

On May 14, two workers and a plant supervisor were manufacturing a gun powder substitute known as Black Mag powder when the explosion occurred. The workers had been required to hand feed powder into operating equipment due to the employer's failure to implement essential protective controls. The employer also chose not to implement remote starting procedures, isolate operating stations, establish safe distancing and erect barriers or shielding - all of which are necessary for the safe manufacture of explosive powder. Additionally, the employer chose not to provide the personal protective equipment and other safety measures its employees needed to work safely with such hazardous material. OSHA cited the company with four egregious willful, 12 willful, 36 serious and two other-than-serious violations with total penalties of $1,232,500.

"Even after a prior incident in which a worker was seriously injured, and multiple warnings from its business partners and a former employee, this employer still decided against implementing safety measures," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "Unfortunately, we see this kind of disregard time and time again across industries. All employers must find and fix workplace hazards so these types of avoidable tragedies don't happen, and workers can return home safely at the end of the day."

The four egregious willful citations were issued for the failure to train each of the four workers involved in the manufacture of the gun powder substitute. In addition to the two workers killed and their supervisor, there was an additional employee who left the job nine days before the explosion. Willful citations are considered egregious when more than one worker is exposed to a single hazard. The citation issued for that hazard is then multiplied by the number of workers exposed.

Other willful citations were issued for the failure to locate operators at safe locations while equipment was operating; separate workstations by distance or barriers and ensure that each worker was properly trained; provide adequate personal protective equipment, such as fire resistant clothing, face shields and gloves; safely store gun powder; and identify explosion hazards in the company's operating procedures. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Some of the 36 serious citations were issued for the failure to separate small arms ammunition from flammable liquids, solids and oxidizing materials by a fire-resistive wall or by a distance of 25 feet; establish and implement an emergency action plan and provide written procedures to manage changes; provide personal protective equipment including clothing, respiratory devices, protective shields and barriers for workers exposed to lead; train workers on appropriate protective equipment; train workers in electrical safety-related work; address hazards associated with exit routes; and address hazards associated with handling, storing and transporting explosives. A serious citation is issued 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.

The two other-than-serious violations are for a failure to perform respirator fit tests and to ensure that facial hair does not interfere with a respirator seal. 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.

To view all of the citations issued to Black Mag, visit http://www.osha.gov/dep/citations/blackmag.pdf.

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