By BRIAN GRAVES
The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its findings late Wednesday concerning the Sept. 7, 2017, explosion at the Wacker Polysilicon plant in Charleston, which resulted in the plant being shut down indefinitely.
The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its findings late Wednesday concerning the Sept. 7, 2017, explosion at the Wacker Polysilicon plant in Charleston which resulted in the plant being shut down indefinitely.
The state agency's report also says its findings "allege violations of standards and/or rules promulgated under the provisions of [state statutes]," and charges the company with a total of $25,400 in fines for five violations categorized as "serious" and two marked "other than serious."
Wacker Vice President Mary Beth Hudson, who serves as Charleston plant manager, responded to the TOSHA findings in a prepared statement.
“We have learned that the Sept. 7 incident resulted from a mechanical failure with equipment in our hydrogen recovery building. A new piston, part of an upgraded compressor design purchased last year, fractured, resulting in the release of hydrogen that ignited," Hudson said.
She added, "To restart the plant, we will be returning to our original compressor design that has operated safely for decades at Wacker sites and many other global companies. We are confident that a return to the original compressor design together with the adoption of other preventative measures will ensure a safe restart of our Charleston plant.”
Hudson's statement continued, "We have been working with an outside independent expert over the last several months to analyze the origin and cause of the Sept. 7 incident as we prepare for the restart of facility operations. The independent team brought decades of global experience and has assisted in identifying key information related to the incident.”
The release of both the Sept. 7, 2017, incident report, as well as the report on the Aug. 30, 2017, leak incident which was released last week, now brings closure to the TOSHA investigations.
“The path to restart our Charleston facility will be in the near future,” Hudson said. “Wacker has discussed both the mechanical compressor failure and the new steps taken to address this type of problem going forward as part of our cooperation with TOSHA during their reviews.”
TOSHA, which did not release an official statement, did release its citation and notification of penalty which lists the allegations of violations and proposed penalties.
As a matter of protocol, TOSHA uses the phrase "allegations of violations" because Wacker has the right to appeal the state agency's findings.
The list of allegations of violations and proposed penalties includes:
1. The employer did not ensure that equipment complies with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices. Serious. Penalty: $7,000
2. The employer did not assure that maintenance materials, spare parts, and equipment were suitable for which they were used. Serious. Penalty: $7,000. ("In that the Neac Hydrogen Compressor T103 had undergone a revamp there the 20-inch head piston was replaced with a 24-inch piston. The new piston failed during operation resulting in the head of the compressor being blown off and a deflagration of the escaping hydrogen resulted in extensive damage to the building.")
3. The employer did not conduct a periodic inspection of the energy control procedure at least annually to ensure that the procedure and the requirement of this standard were being followed. Serious. Penalty: $4,000
4. Each authorized employee did not affix a personal lockout or tagout device to the group lockout device before working on the machine or equipment. Serious. Penalty: $3,200
5. The employer did not provide adequate training to ensure that the purpose and function of the energy control program was understood by employees. Serious. Penalty: $3,200
6. A bottle of an unknown chemical was found in the control room of Building B156 that was not labeled as to what was in the container (presumed to be alcohol) and what hazards were associated with it. Other than serious. Penalty: $500.
7. The employer did not provide information to the emplyoyes as to the location and availability of the written hazard communication program and material safety data sheets required. Other than serious. Penalty: $500.
“At Wacker, we are continually working to ensure the safety of our site, our team members, our community, and our environment,” Hudson said. “We are committed to providing safe and secure jobs in our community.”
Hudson noted that during the six months the facility has been shut down after the incident, “not one team member has been laid off or terminated because of the shut down” and Wacker team members have reported to work every day since then “to help with the rebuild, receive additional training, perform maintenance, and prepare the plant for the restart.”
“Since the incident last September, our entire workforce has demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to supporting the investigation and restoration effort,” Hudson said. “We are grateful and proud of our team, particularly for their dedication and hard work.”
She also added the company shares TOSHA’s concerns for workers and “fully cooperated during their investigation."
She stressed, “Safety is our number one value and priority. We are constantly working to ensure the safety of our site, our team members, our community, and our environment as we move toward restarting production at the site.”
Wacker has 30 days in which to pay the penalties or 20 days in which to formally contest any or all parts of the citation.
The company has not stated whether it will utilize the formal contest option.
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