In the aftermath of a fire at a New Hampshire wood pellet manufacturing plant on Oct. 20, 2011, OSHA has cited New England Wood Pellet LLC for alleged repeat and serious violations of workplace safety standards. The agency has proposed a total of $147,000 in fines.
The fire, which started in the pellet mill, was transported through several conveying systems to a pellet cooler and then to a dust collector, and caused several other flash fires. Shortly thereafter, explosions occurred in the dust collector and an exhaust muffler. The explosions sent fireballs outside of the building and likely ignited materials in two silos.
An inspection by OSHA's Concord Area Office found numerous fire and explosion hazards stemming from the absence of protective devices in the transport system, dust collection duct and conveyor systems that would prevent sparks, embers and fires from spreading throughout the system, as well as a lack of effective explosion protection due to the construction and/or location of dust collection ducts. The hazards were exacerbated by a buildup of combustible wood dust on surfaces throughout the plant and from the use of unsafe equipment to vacuum combustible dust.
"While it is fortunate that no one was killed in this conflagration, there is no excuse for the employer's failure to effectively minimize and address clearly recognized hazards that could kill or disable workers in a catastrophic incident," said Rosemarie Ohar, OSHA's area director for New Hampshire.
As a result of its findings, OSHA issued two repeat citations with $140,000 in fines for failing to provide a workplace free of recognized fire and explosion hazards, and for using unapproved electrical equipment to vacuum combustible dust. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. Similar violations were cited in July 2008.
One serious citation with a $7,000 fine was issued for the buildup of combustible dust on equipment and surfaces throughout the facility.