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Nitro chemical plant cited over worker's death

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- AC&S Inc., a Nitro chemical manufacturer, has been cited for 12 serious violations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration following a June accident that led to the asphyxiation death of Rex Wilcoxen, one of the company's workers.

According to a news release dated Wednesday, Wilcoxen was sandblasting at the plant using an air hood that was mistakenly hooked up to a nitrogen line. He lost consciousness, OSHA said, and was taken to a Charleston hospital, where he died.

In visits the next month, investigators from OSHA's Charleston office said they found a number of other unsafe conditions at the AC&S facility, located at 150 Plant Road.

The agency set penalties of $42,700 for the reported violations and ordered the company to fix the problems.

AC&S has 15 business days to comply with the citations, request an informal conference or contest the citations.

In a brief statement Thursday, an AC&S spokesman said the company is working with OSHA to address the concerns and prevent future accidents. He did not say whether AC&S plans to fight any of the citations.

The two largest fines -- $7,000 each -- were directly related to the accidental use of nitrogen instead of air in Wilcoxen's air hood, which led to his death.

"The employer did not furnish . . . a place of employment which was free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm . . . in that employees were exposed to the inadvertent use of nitrogen for supplied air when using a supplied air hood," one citation said.

"A nitrogen pipeline located next to a supplied air pipeline was not properly labeled . . . resulting in an employee connecting to the nitrogen line instead of the supplied airline which caused an asphyxiation death during sandblasting operations."

OSHA ordered AC&S to install a plantwide pipeline-labeling system, using the "correct color scheme" for nitrogen.

The second $7,000 citation faulted the company for not using breathing-air couplings that were incompatible with the nitrogen pipeline, which would have prevented the accident.

The agency issued 10 other "serious" citations for a variety of safety violations, such as using equipment not certified for hazardous locations and failing to develop safe work procedures and written instructions for emergency shutdown. Most of these citations carried $4,900 penalties.

In addition, OSHA issued five nonserious citations for problems that must be fixed but with no proposed penalty.

Blake McEnany, assistant area director for OSHA in Charleston, said the office issued its citations to AC&S on Dec. 20 and the company received them the next day. The company has not yet responded, he said.

"AC&S has a responsibility to ensure that its workers are safeguarded from workplace hazards, and by not properly labeling its gas systems, failed to protect a worker who ended up losing his life. That is intolerable," Prentice Cline, director of the Charleston office, said in a news release.

"OSHA's standards are designed to prevent this kind of tragic incident," Cline said.

A woman who answered the phone Thursday at AC&S referred calls to Aly Goodwin-Gregg of Charles Ryan Associates, who issued a written statement Thursday afternoon.

"The OSHA investigation following the tragic accident that occurred in our Railcar Cleaning Division in June of this year concluded with recommendations for improvement and safety citations for the company," the statement said. "As safety is paramount, we began working with OSHA immediately following the accident to address its concerns and do all that we can to ensure that this type of accident will never happen again.

"The loss was very difficult for all of us within this small company and our greatest sympathy goes to the family of Rex Wilcoxen. We have counseled and supported our employees as we have dealt with the loss of a friend and co-worker."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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