The Occupational Safety & Health Administration fined Formosa Plastics Corp. $148,000 for alleged safety violations in connection with an Oct. 6 fire and explosion at its chemical plant complex in Point Comfort, Texas, that injured 12 people, including one hospitalized with serious burns.
OSHA issued the fine April 5, citing Livingston, N.J.-based Formosa with one willful and 13 serious violations at the site, in the aftermath of the explosion in the purification area of an olefins unit producing ethylene and propylene.
Industry sources said production resumed in the damaged area earlier last week.
The fine is the second levied against the complex in the past six years and the fourth time OSHA has fined a Formosa site in the U.S. for safety violations since December 2000. Last April, OSHA and Formosa reached a settlement on violations related to a fire that killed five workers and seriously injured three others at a specialty vinyl plant in Illiopolis, Ill., in April 2004. The fire and explosion destroyed that plant; Formosa was cited for 36 serious violations and fined $300,000.
Company spokesman Rob Thibault said Formosa ``disagrees strongly'' with the recent willful violation charge, which states that the firm failed to provide employees with flame-resistant or flame-retardant clothing. The firm will appeal all the violations.
``We are fully satisfied that there is no OSHA standard that requires Formosa to provide flame-resistant or flame-retardant clothing to employees or contract employees entering or working in operating process areas during normal operating conditions,'' Thibault said. ``We believe that we could not have shown intentional disregard or plain indifference,'' as a willful violation contends. ``We believe that we have and continue to operate the plant in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.''
John Giefer, OSHA area director in Corpus Christi, Texas, said in a statement: ``OSHA has inspected Formosa Plastics numerous times for many of the same violations. If the company had followed OSHA standards, it is possible that the injuries sustained by these workers could have been avoided.''
OSHA's online records show that it has inspected the Point Comfort plant a dozen times in the past 10 years - with five inspections resulting in violations.
Thibault said the Oct. 6 explosion occurred when a contract employee backed a forklift into a liquid propylene line, breaking a valve or fitting. He said propylene was released then vaporized and traveled along the ground until it found an ignition source.