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Fox Valley Systems Inc. faces $262,000 in fines for multiple safety violations following an explosion and fire that resulted in serious injuries to three employees on March 6 at its Cary, IL, plant, said officials at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA cited the company for 26 safety violations, including two willful violations where locked doors impeded exit routes and snow blocked exits, slowing employees from exiting the plant quickly. OSHA placed the aerosol paint manufacturer in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

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Flammable vapors ignited in the production facility, resulting in an explosion and fire that caused extensive damage to the building and the interconnected aerosol-propellant charging rooms. Inspectors found multiple violations of OSHA’s process safety management standards for facilities that use highly hazardous chemicals at the facility. Fox Valley Systems employs 23 workers.

“In part, workers were injured in this tragic explosion because they could not get out quickly because of blocked exit doors. This is unacceptable for any business, and especially for one handling hazardous materials and chemicals daily,” said Nick Walters, regional administrator for OSHA in Chicago. “OSHA is committed to ensuring best work practices to prevent endangering the safety and health of workers.”

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Fox Valley Systems faces citations for six willful violations. Two of the willful violations concerned exit doors locked from the outside and the failure to provide unobstructed exit routes. In one example, an employee with clothing on fire crawled beneath conveyor lines and past a pallet of materials that partially blocked the exit path to forcibly open an exit door latched shut from the outside and blocked by snow. Another willful violation involved workers operating propane-powered industrial trucks in an unapproved production area.

The remaining four willful violations involve OSHA’s process safety management standards, including failure to develop and implement written, safe operating and mechanical integrity procedures; ensure that equipment complied with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices; and conduct inspections and tests on process equipment. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for, or plain indifference to, employee safety and health.

There were 20 serious safety violations including inadequate storage of flammable liquids; various electrical equipment deficiencies; and additional violations of process safety management elements, including employee participation, process safety information, implementation of safe work practices, employee training, emergency action planning and alarm systems, process hazard analysis and compliance audits.

A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer’s facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations.

OSHA also conducted a separate and recent safety inspection in August of the company’s paint striping, cart manufacturing operation located within the same warehouse. The company received citations for 11 violations involving electrical equipment deficiencies; not implementing safe electrical work practices and not providing electrically rated personal protective equipment; omissions in chemical labeling; failure to develop a hazardous energy control program; forklift training deficiencies; and not having fall protection at a ladder hatchway providing access to the roof. Penalties in that case totaled $22,800.

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