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The ignition of wood dust in the plant's production room migrated to a retention bin, resulting in an explosion that spread through the building.
An investigation by the Providence Area Office of the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that employees at the plant were exposed to wood dust explosions, deflagrations, or rapid combustion, and other fire hazards due to inadequate or absent preventive and protective measures in the wood pellet processing system and its equipment.
Specifically, OSHA found that the retention bin lacked spark detection, explosion suppression, fire/explosion isolation and explosion venting devices; conveyor systems carrying combustible wood products lacked spark detection, fire suppression and/or fire isolation devices; dust collection systems and dust segregation barriers were not maintained to minimize fire sources; and an opening in the fire wall between the plant's production room and chip room allowed a fireball to enter the chip room and spread the fire.
OSHA identified additional fire hazards at the 275 Ferris Ave. plant, such as the accumulation of combustible wood dust on various locations and surfaces within the plant, an incomplete and inadequate fire prevention plan and lack of dust-tight electrical equipment where combustible wood dust accumulated.
Other hazards included an incomplete respiratory protection program; lack of noise monitoring; inadequate chemical hazard communication and training; excess amounts of liquefied petroleum gas stored in the building; an untrained forklift operator; and lack of procedures and training to ensure that all equipment was properly deenergized to prevent unintended activation.
Because of these and other hazards, OSHA has cited Inferno for 11 serious violations of workplace safety standards and has proposed $43,400 in fines. 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.
Detailed information on wood dust hazards and safeguards is available here.
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 ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.
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