Tonawanda Coke Corp. and Kirchner LLC, which provides temporary workers, face $161,100 in potential fines from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration over 17 alleged safety violations, following a January explosion at the River Road plant that injured three workers.
“Had this company taken proper precautions and ensured that safety systems were working, this explosion would not have occurred,” Michael T. Scime, OSHA’s area director in Buffalo, said in a statement. “Equally disturbing, however, are the additional, preventable hazards the employer allowed at the plant.”
OSHA says the company allowed conditions at the plant that exposed workers to potential falls, injuries and amputations from unexpectedly activated machinery and an inability to exit the plant swiftly in an emergency.
OSHA cited Tonawanda Coke for 15 alleged “serious” violations, with $90,100 in proposed fines. OSHA defines violations as “serious” when “death or serious physical harm could result from hazards about which the company knew or should have known.”
Tonawanda Coke was also cited for two “repeat” violations, with $70,000 in proposed fines. OSHA said the citations were for recurring hazards, including failing to train employees in lockout procedures and not certifying inspections of those procedures. OSHA previously fined the company $1,000 for failing to provide voltage markings on electrical equipment.
OSHA issued the same 17 citations to Kirchner, which provides temporary workers to Tonawanda Coke.
The Jan. 31 explosion injured two permanent employees of the plant and one temporary employee, and collapsed brick walls and damaged electrical equipment. OSHA said that an overpressured coke oven manifold released coke oven gas in an enclosed area, where it ignited.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, in a statement called the alleged safety violations “frightening but unfortunately not surprising,” and he urged OSHA to “keep a close eye on the facility.”
“Given the severity of violations cited by OSHA, it is a wonder that more people inside the plant haven’t been hurt,” Higgins said. “Repeat violations indicate that Tonawanda Coke clearly isn’t learning from its mistakes.”
Scime said Tonawanda Coke and Kirchner received their citations Thursday. As is standard practice, they were given 15 business days to either comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
In a separate case, a jury in March 2013 found Tonawanda Coke guilty on 14 criminal charges of polluting the ground and air at its plant. Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny this year imposed a $24 million fine.