AB Specialty Silicones Plant Facing $1.59 Million OSHA Fine After Fatal Explosion Left 4 Dead in Illinois

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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed fining AB Specialty Silicones more than $1.59 million in connection with an Illinois plant explosion that tragically killed four workers in May.

In addition to the fine, OSHA has listed AB Specialty Silicones in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which specifically targets employers that place workers in danger by willfully ignoring vital safety regulations.

Illinois Silicone Explosion Shook Homes in Waukegan

The May 3rd explosion at the AB Specialty Silicones plant destroyed three buildings on the company’s 240,000 square-foot campus in Waukegan, Illinois, severely damaged several others, and was heard and felt for miles.

“The explosion was a big boom and the ground shook,” one Waukegan resident said at the time. “Our cable TV flickered and the electricity, and then it came back on.”

Nine workers were onsite that evening, but just six escaped the subsequent inferno alive. Sadly, one of the survivors later died in the hospital.

OSHA Cites AB Specialty Silicones for 12 Willful Violations

OSHA was among several state and federal agencies investigating the AB Specialty Silicones explosion. On Friday, the regulator proposed fining the company $1,591,176.00 for 12 willful safety violations uncovered in the wake of the tragedy.

OSHA inspectors cited AB Specialty Silicones for, among other things, failing to ensure that electrical equipment complied with federal standards and was approved for use in hazardous locations. The company also used propane-powered forklifts to move flammable liquids and operated those vehicles in areas where workers were handling flammable liquids.

“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,” OSHA Acting Regional Administrator Nancy Hauter said in a statement announcing the penalties.

What is OSHA’s Severe Violator Program?

OSHA launched the Severe Violator Program in 2017 to better target enforcement resources at the worst-of-the-worst workplace safety offenders.

In general, companies on the Severe Violator list are subject to at least three years of maximum oversight, including follow-up inspections to assess citation abatement and to determine if the employer is committing similar violations. They must also:

  • Provide OSHA with a list of current and future job sites and written description of specific protective measures utilized to demonstrate compliance.
  • Hire a qualified consultant to develop and implement a comprehensive safety and health program.
  • Maintain and submit a Work-Related Injury/Illness log to OSHA on a quarterly basis.
  • Report any serious injury or illness requiring medical attention to OSHA and consent to an inspection.
  • Consent to the entry of a court enforcement order.

AB Specialty Silicones Reviewing its Options

AB Specialty Silicones has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or formally contest the findings. The company has acknowledged receipt of the citations and is apparently reviewing its options

“We cooperated fully with the agency’s investigation, and we will continue to work with the agency. It is important to recognize the scope of the OSHA report goes beyond the elements that contributed to the tragic explosion,” a company statement said. “Our internal investigation, as well as the Fire Marshal’s report, confirmed the incident was in fact an accident, and there was no willful intent involved.”

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