BOSTON – After enforcement actions taken in relation to a series of explosions and fires at its Jaffrey, N.H., manufacturing plant, New England Wood Pellet LLC will take systemic and substantive steps to prevent any further recurrences as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company also will pay a fine of $100,000.
OSHA cited the company in April for violations of workplace safety standards in connection with the first incident of explosions and fires, which occurred on Oct. 20, 2011, and took 15 hours and more than 100 firefighters from 12 towns to put down. An inspection by OSHA's Concord Area Office conducted in response to that incident identified numerous fire and explosion hazards stemming from the absence of protective devices, which were exacerbated by a buildup of sawdust on surfaces throughout the plant.
New England Wood Pellet contested the citations and fines to the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission but now has agreed to implement measures to prevent, detect and suppress any potential fires and explosions. The company also has agreed to hire an independent third-party expert to evaluate the effectiveness of the corrective measures.
"Key to this agreement is the company's hiring of an independent third-party consultant who will analyze the corrective actions and inform OSHA of the company's progress," said Marthe Kent, OSHA's New England regional administrator. "It's well known that sawdust can present explosion hazards in addition to fire hazards. New England Wood Pellet cannot afford to gamble with the possibility of additional fires and explosions. The lives of its workers depend on effective safeguards being in place and in use at all times."
Under the agreement, which was negotiated by the department's Regional Office of the Solicitor in Boston, the expert also will evaluate the sufficiency of the plant's process safety management systems. A report will then will be submitted to OSHA's Concord office.
"With this settlement, ongoing, corrective action by the company replaces potentially lengthy litigation. New England Wood Pellet is responsible for its employees' safety, and its enforceable commitment to take all necessary steps to prevent future conflagrations and catastrophic incidents, as promised in this agreement, is critical," said Michael Felsen, the department's regional solicitor for New England. "We encourage other employers to take similar steps to eliminate hazards and safeguard their workers in a broad, systemic and effective manner."
The case was litigated for the department by Senior Trial Attorney Constance B. Franklin.
Information on combustible dust hazards is available online at http://www.osha.gov/dsg/combustibledust/index.html.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Concord office at 603-225-1629.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Source: U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
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