OSHA: $100K Fine for Flash Fire Death

November 8, 2016

On May 6, 2016, a 38-year old pipefitter working at the Poet Biorefining-Hudson ethanol refinery in South Dakota was burned to death.

The worker was removing a nine-foot segment of vent line on the sixth floor of the refinery's distillation building when 190-proof ethanol spilled onto him, flowed through the grated flooring, and ignited on the fourth floor due to the welding operations occurring there. The resulting fire engulfed the worker, causing fatal injuries that led to his death the following day.

Another welder was injured at the fire scene and was treated for injuries in Minneapolis.

OSHA cited the refinery operator and owner, Sioux River Ethanol LLC which operates as Poet Biorefining-Hudson, and construction company Bilfinger-Westcon for serious violations of OSHA's process safety management standards including failing to ensure the process pipe being removed did not contain ethanol.

OSHA has proposed penalties of $62,355 for Bilfinger-Westcon, based in Bismark, North Dakota, for:

  • Conducting welding operations in an area where flammable liquids could be present.
  • Failing to provide flame retardant clothing.
  • Not training workers in procedures for process safety procedures and hazards, associated with working in a processing facility. View citation here:

OSHA has proposed penalties of $37,413 for Poet Biorefining-Hudson for failing to:

  • Inform contractors working at their facility of the hazards related to ethanol processing.
  • Implement written procedures to conduct shutdown activities including verifying the process piping did not contain ethanol.
  • Ensure safe work practices including controlling the entrance, presence and exit of contract workers within the process area. View citation here:

"This death was needless and preventable if critical safety standards had been followed," said Sheila Stanley, OSHA's area director in Sioux Falls. "Communication between the host employer and all contractors is critical in working safely at any site covered by the Process Safety Management Standard. All aspects of permit systems including 'hot work' and line break must be implemented to ensure that welding activities do not occur near line break activities where flammable materials may be released."

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