Blue Rhino, OSHA reach settlement on 2013 incident at Florida plant

December 10, 2015 By    

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Ferrellgas, parent company of Blue Rhino, signed a settlement related to a July 2013 incident in which employees were injured during a fire at a propane tank refurbishing facility in Taveras, Fla.

Blue Rhino agreed to pay penalties totaling $52,000, according to OSHA. The agreement also requires Blue Rhino to complete the abatement of all hazards related to the incident within 60 days of signing the settlement.

“This settlement is an important step toward protecting these workers and ensuring that all employers are monitoring and removing hazards from the workplace,” says Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s Southeast regional administrator, in a press release.

According to the press release, an OSHA investigation the day after the incident found that Blue Rhino failed to use an explosion-proof forklift in an area where employees were actively venting propane from tanks. The incident involved night-shift workers who prepared tanks for paint removal in a storage yard. A worker called in a forklift to move tanks, but the forklift was not explosion-proof. It created a spark that ignited propane vapor and nearly 600,000 pounds of propane, according to OSHA. A fireball swept through the storage facility, injuring six workers and severely burning four.

OSHA’s investigation also found that Blue Rhino failed to follow process safety management standards for the individual propane tanks amassed in the storage yard; failed to provide process safety management training for employees on propane hazard alarms; and failed to ensure workers used personal protective equipment.

According to Ferrellgas, the incident occurred because employees failed to follow standard procedures.

“Importantly, OSHA never accused the company of any willful violation of the applicable regulations,” says Scott Brockelmeyer, vice president of marketing and media relations at Ferrellgas, in a statement. “In fact, the company conducted an extensive investigation of its own after the incident and concluded that the resulting accident was caused by several non-management employees failing to follow established company procedures and their training for the safe operation of the plant. Many of the alleged violations were wholly unrelated to the subject incident.”

OSHA voluntarily withdrew a number of alleged violations for a lack of evidence, and it limited and narrowed a number of other alleged violations, Brockelmeyer adds.

“Even after OSHA voluntarily withdrew and limited a number of violations, Ferrellgas still disagreed with most of the remaining violations,” Brockelmeyer says. “But in order to avoid the time, burden and expense associated with further litigation, it decided to resolve the matter at this time.”

Before resuming operations in December 2013, the company had all employees retrained to ensure compliance with company procedures and safe operations at the plant, Brockelmeyer says. The company also modified some procedures to reduce the chance that improper employee actions result in an accident.

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik was a senior editor at LP Gas Magazine.

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