OSHA Issues $1,591,176 in Penalties To AB Specialty Silicones After 4 Fatalities in Waukegan Plant Explosion, May 2019

Four people died in the explosion at AB Specialty Silicones in May, and now, OSHA has ordered $1.6 million in penalties. CBS 2’s Audrina Bigos reports.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited AB Specialty Silicones LLC for 12 willful federal safety violations after four employees suffered fatal injuries in an explosion and fire at the company’s Waukegan, Illinois plant at the northeast corner of Northwestern Avenue and Sunset Avenue on Friday May 3, 2019 about 9:30 p.m. The company faces $1,591,176 in penalties. OSHA has also placed the silicon chemical products manufacturer in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

AB Specialty Silicones LLC has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA investigators determined AB Specialty Silicones failed to ensure that electrical equipment and installations in the production area of the plant complied with OSHA electrical standards, and were approved for hazardous locations. The company also used forklifts powered by liquid propane to transport volatile flammable liquids, and operated these forklifts in areas where employees handled and processed volatile flammable liquids and gases, creating the potential for ignition.

“Employers must employ hazard recognition to protect workers from harm, especially in high hazard industries. By ignoring safety and health requirements, this employer created an unsafe work environment with deadly consequences.”

— Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt

“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, in Chicago, Illinois

OSHA provides resources on electrical safety and using forklifts when working with hazardous materials. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

The four employees killed in the AB Specialty Silicones plant explosion were …

Jeff Cummings, 57, of Kenosha, a third-shift production supervisor who had spent seven years with the company;

Byron Biehn, 53, of Union Grove, Wisconsin, second-shift production supervisor who had been with AB Specialty Silicones for nine years, and was an owner of the company;

Allen Stevens, 29, of Paddock Lake, Wisc., a second-shift chemical operator who had been with the company for two years and also was an owner; and

Daniel Nicklas, of Beach Park, who was a quality control chemist who had been with the company eight months.

In July 2019, Lake County and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office announced the filing of a lawsuit against AB Specialty Silicones of Waukegan seeking cleanup action and civil penalties following the explosion and fire that released chemicals into the environment — both air and water. Also, Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim said on the same day that his office plans to “work diligently with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to seek remediation of any environmental impacts as a result of the explosion.”

The complaint, filed in Lake County Circuit Court, alleges that the fire and explosion at AB Specialty Silicones, which manufactures silicon derivative products, resulted in air pollution from an unknown amount of chemicals being released into the air.

In addition, according to a summary of the complaint, chemicals and water used to fight the fire were allowed to seep into the storm sewers, which contaminated a wetland area and Osprey Lake up to a mile from the scene.

NBC Chicago reported soon after the explosion that officials said there “is no hazardous material concern for the debris scattered across the streets and in the air.” A huge smoke plume moved across the sky over Lake County after the explosion.

The fire department investigation of the cause of the explosion was a collaborative effort with the Illinois Fire Marshal, the Waukegan Fire Department, representatives from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and CSB investigators (US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board). The investigation concluded that the explosion and fire was caused by a mixture of chemicals, but that the identities of the chemicals mix where not determined.

With headquarters in Washington D.C., CSB is an independent U.S. federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the United States Senate. The CSB conducts root cause investigations of chemical accidents at fixed industrial facilities.

— Mission CSB.gov

At this point, almost six months following the fatal explosion, it is apparently undetermined whether ignition related to substandard electrical equipment or propane-powered forklifts caused the explosion and/or a chemical mix and chemical reaction caused the fatal explosion.

According to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board website on Friday October 25, 2019, the CSB’s investigation is ongoing.

 RELATED NEWS … 

CARDINAL NEWS | Identity Released of Final Missing Man Killed in Explosion at AB Specialty Silicones in Waukegan

See also …
NBC Chicago | Video Shows ‘Ground Shaking’ Explosion in Waukegan That Sent at Least 4 to Hospital

OSHA News Release – Region 5 | U.S. Department of Labor Issues $1,591,176 in Penalties To AB Specialty Silicones After 4 Fatalities in Illinois Plant Explosion

CSB | AB Specialty Silicones, LLC

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Satellite View of AB Specialty Silicones, LLC before a fatal explosion occurred on May 3, 2019
Satellite View of AB Specialty Silicones, LLC before a fatal explosion occurred on May 3, 2019.