Enforcement and Inspection

Explosion Results in Huge OSHA Penalty: $1.6 Million

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is seeking nearly $1.6 million in penalties from an Illinois manufacturer. The agency cited AB Specialty Silicones, LLC, for 12 willful federal safety violations after 4 employees suffered fatal injuries in an explosion and fire at the company’s Waukegan, Illinois, plant on May 3, 2019.

OSHA safety enforcement concept

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OSHA also placed the silicon chemical products manufacturer in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). All the agency’s citations are for alleged willful violations. Proposed penalties total $1,591,176.

Investigators with the Waukegan, Illinois, fire department have been unable to determine the cause of the explosion. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) also dispatched investigators to the facility. The CSB has not issued a statement or a report on the cause of the incident.

OSHA cited AB Specialty Silicones with willful violations of federal electrical equipment, flammable liquid, and powered industrial trucks standards.

“An employer’s adherence to safety and health standards, including the proper use of electrical equipment and forklifts when handling flammable liquids, is critical to preventing fire, explosions and other incidents that can seriously or fatally injure workers,” Acting Regional Administrator Nancy Hauter said in an agency statement.

Willful Violations

A willful violation is one in which an employer purposely disregards a safety and health standard or acts with plain indifference to employee safety and health.

The agency alleges the following violations at the AB Specialty Silicones facility:

  • Electrical wiring and equipment were not safely installed where flammable liquids were handled, processed, or used;
  • The equipment and wiring methods used were not intrinsically safe, approved for use around flammable liquids, or safe for a location classified as hazardous;
  • Locations where flammable vapor-air mixtures may exist under certain conditions were not properly classified; and
  • Forklifts powered by liquid propane were used to transport volatile flammable liquids and operated in areas where employees handled and processed volatile flammable liquids and gases, creating the potential for ignition.

Only diesel-powered DY or electric EE and EX forklifts may be used in locations where volatile flammable liquids or flammable gases are handled, processed, or used.

“By ignoring safety and health requirements, this employer created an unsafe work environment with deadly consequences,” according to Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt.

“Employers must employ hazard recognition to protect workers from harm, especially in high hazard industries,” Sweatt said.

An employer can be placed in OSHA’s SVEP after employee fatalities or if the agency determines the employer is recalcitrant or indifferent to its obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act).

Severe violators are subject to mandatory follow-up inspections. Other steps the agency takes with severe violators include issuing regional or national news releases and sending letters to corporate officers about the company’s obligations under the OSH Act.

The names of companies on OSHA’s SVEP log can be found in a publicly downloadable spreadsheet.