OSHA fines Resolute, subcontractor for fatal York County accident

dworthington@heraldonline.comJuly 16, 2013 

— Resolute Forest Products and its subcontractor have been fined $33,250 by the state for seven “serious violations” related to the January accident that killed a contract worker.

Samir Storey of Monroe, N.C., died from hydrogen sulfide asphyxiation when he was trapped in a tank he was cleaning.

The state Office of Occupational Safety and Health fined Resolute $17,850 for three serious violations and one “other-than-serious” violation. Subcontractor Industrial Piping Inc. of Pineville, N.C., was fined $15,400 for four serious violations.

The companies have appealed the fines, requesting an informal hearing, said Lesia Kudelka, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Storey, 39, was one of several contract employees cleaning a 6.5-foot-by-78.5-foot tank in the plant’s power generation area during a scheduled maintenance outage on Jan. 21 and 22.

Jermel Storey, Samir Storey’s cousin, has said a “clear, cloudy smoke” entered the tank, triggering emergency alarms, which trapped Samir Storey in the tank. Jermel Storey also was working on the job.

“My cousin screamed,” Jermel Storey has said. “Nobody helped. It was like nothing ever happened.”

According to a York County coroner’s report, Samir Storey died “within minutes.”

Hydrogen sulfide affects the body in two ways. It blocks oxygen from binding with blood cells, and it interrupts the central nervous system, which, in turn, affects the respiratory system.

Christopher Chestnut, a Charlotte attorney representing the Storey family, said the state agency’s findings were consistent with what they had found.

“This is clear evidence that this company puts profits over the safety of their workers, and Samir Storey paid for this with his life,” Chestnut said.

Chestnut said the Storeys will soon begin filing a lawsuit against Resolute and its subcontractor. He did not say what the family would sue for, but he said it would be a significant amount.

Money, Chestnut said, is the only thing these companies understand.

Debbie Johnston, spokeswoman for Resolute Forest Products, said the company “takes safety serious.” She said it will comply with “legally applicable requirements” but did not specifically comment on the citations.

She said Resolute remains “saddened by the incident that led to the death” of Samir Storey, and “our thoughts and prayers are with the family and others affected.”

Industrial Piping Inc. could not be reached for comment.

Hoist breaks in rescue

According to the state investigation, three workers entered the tank about 1:21 a.m. Jan. 22 to disassemble and clean trays that were part of a “stripper column” in the tank. Ten workers had been cleaning the tank since 6:45 p.m. Jan. 21.

Two minutes after workers entered the tank, a “warm brown liquid and vapor flushed” from the left side of the stripper column, above the workers, according to the report.

An attendant helping the workers called for help from Resolute Forest Products, according to the safety department report.

One worker was 3 feet from a doorway and climbed out. A second worker was about 18 feet below the doorway and climbed up the side of the tank. The attendant used a hand-crank hoist to reel in the lifeline attached to the second worker and helped him out.

Once the second worker was out of the tank, the attendant used the hoist to pull out Samir Storey. The lifeline attached to Storey became tight, causing the hoist assembly arm to break.

Samir Storey was trapped about 14 feet from the doorway, according to the report.

After the brown liquid and vapor were released, the level of hydrogen sulfide were above 200 parts per million. The state Office of Occupational Safety and Health considers any exposure in excess of 100 ppm as “immediately dangerous to life.” The levels of carbon monoxide were at least 100 ppm. The state agency’s standard is 50 ppm.

Company violations

Serious violations attributed to Resolute Forest Products were:

• Failure to develop and implement practices to allow safe entry into the structure, including “purging, inerting, flushing or ventilating” the space to eliminate hazards.

• Failure to periodically inspect energy control procedures to “lockout” equipment such as valves and electrical equipment in the stripper system.

• Failure to inform Industrial Piping of “lockout” procedures used at the stripper system.

The “other-than-serious” violation was failure to retain a canceled entry permit required for the confined space.

Serious violations attributed to Industrial Piping were:

• Failure to provide a medical evaluation to determine whether an employee can use a respirator.

• Failure to provide effective training to employees required to use respirators.

• Failure to properly train five employees in how to work in confined spaces.

• Failure to ensure that 10 employees who placed a lock on the group lockout box understood the purpose and function of the energy control program.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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