Two contractors who scaled an 8-foot tall fence topped with triple-strand barbed wire were among those injured when an explosion blasted through a Newark, Ohio manufacturing facility.

"Four workers were lucky to be able to escape with minor injuries after a fireball engulfed their work area," said Vanessa Martin, OSHA's area director in Columbus.

An OSHA investigation found that Arboris LLC violated process safety management procedures for the handling of hazardous materials and did not have emergency shut-down procedures for the evaporator and rotary drum filter at the plant when the fire occurred on Dec. 21, 2015.

The agency found that Arboris failed to:

  • Designate sufficient egress routes.
  • Develop operational procedures to maintain the ongoing integrity of equipment.
  • Develop procedures to prevent inadvertent startup or release of stored energy.
  • Document inspections and maintenance.
  • Follow standard operating procedures.
  • Review operating procedures annually.
  • Develop procedures for starting up the system after a turnaround.
  • Ensure piping and instrumentation diagrams are accurate.
  • Provide clear instructions to employees during service and maintenance.
  • Provide personal protective equipment necessary in the event of a fire.
  • Install handrails on stairs.
  • Enclose or guard electrical equipment.

Smoke inhalation, burns

OSHA issued Arboris one willful, 35 serious and five other-than-serious safety violations on June 17 and has proposed penalties of $180,180. Two Arboris workers suffered smoke inhalation and first-degree burns.

The two workers who were hurt scaling the fence were employed by Atlas Industrial Contractors LLC. That company was cited for one repeated, one serious and one other-than-serious safety violation on May 17 for failing to store gas cylinders properly and to provide flame-resistant clothing and other personal protective equipment. Atlas employees were working in the facility to decommission and demolishing old process equipment. OSHA has proposed fines of $41,000 to the Columbus-based company.

Arboris has manufacturing plants in Savannah, Georgia, and Newark, to produce sterols - a natural compound produced by pine trees - used commonly in foods such as spreads, bread, milk and yogurt.

Columbus-based Atlas also operates facilities in Troy, Ohio; Lincoln, Alabama; and Longmont, Colorado.

"When employers fail to properly document procedures and control highly hazardous chemicals, there is a potential for unintentional releases which can cause explosions and fires,” said Martin. “Companies must carefully monitor their processes to ensure safety in manufacturing facilities."