Chemical company fined $87K for leak that killed 1

Published 4:45 pm Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Georgia manufacturing company has been fined more than $87,000 by the federal government for a chemical accident last year that injured two employees, one of whom later died from his injuries.

MFG Chemical was issued 17 safety and health citations by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the government says the company continues to expose workers to “serious hazards associated with process safety management.”

“MFG continues to violate OSHA standards … ,” Christi Griffin, director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Atlanta-West Area Office, said in a press release. “Allowing repeated violations demonstrates the company’s lack of commitment to worker safety and health.”

On July 7, 2014, chemical fumes escaped from a reactor at MFG Chemical in Dalton, Georgia, near the Tennessee border. One employee, 28-year-old Jason Jeffers, suffered burns to his lung tissue after breathing in maleic anhydride that escaped a vessel as he walked by. Jeffers was in the hospital for months following the incident and died Nov. 3 after his heart failed due to a combination of health problems stemming from breathing in the chemical, according to his family.

“I’m really mad,” his wife Robin said on Tuesday. “I’m more hurt that it wasn’t just a freak accident; that it was just carelessness on their part, that it could have been prevented. Nobody should have to go through what I’m going through right now. Nobody should have to go through what my husband went through.”

Another employee sustained minor injuries and was treated and released from the hospital.

Phone and email messages left for MFG officials on Tuesday were not immediately returned.

“Serious citations were issued for the company’s failure to ensure guarded floor openings and pits, establish and implement written changes to the chemical manufacturing process, and identify previous workplace incidents that had the potential for catastrophic results,” the OSHA press release said. “Other violations included failure to provide medical examinations for workers required to use respirators and not conducting fit tests for respirators.”

OSHA also issued repeated citations for “MFG’s failure to ensure that the reactor system alarm provided early warning for worker evacuation, not training workers on the hazards of permit-required confined spaces and failure to ensure equipment used for manufacturing had an adequate pressure-relief design,” according to the release.

Robin Jeffers said she believes the company should be shut down temporarily or permanently due to its repeated problems.

“It doesn’t need to be open if they don’t know what they’re doing,” she said. “They need to be shut down.”

MFG was inspected by OSHA in 2012 and received 19 serious citations related to process safety management standards, the release said. A runaway reaction on May 21, 2012, at an MFG facility on Callahan Road created too much pressure in a reactor, rupturing a dome cover and blowing a hole in the roof of the facility. Some 40 people working for other companies in the area had to be decontaminated. OSHA fined the company $77,000 for safety violations after that incident.

The OSHA press release on Tuesday stated that MFG has 15 business days from the receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before an independent OSHA review commission. MFG was issued the citations on Dec. 22.

Hymes writes for the Dalton (Ga.) Daily Citizen.