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New Jersey ink plant blamed for fire that injured 7 workers

Bergen County industrial workers have a right to expect employers to be concerned about safety. That doesn't mean all employers live up to those expectations. Lax safety precautions can lead to manufacturing accidents, serious worker injuries and sometimes, deaths.

The Chemical Safety Board recently reported the results of an investigation into a 2012 New Jersey industrial accident. The CSB advises the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The report reviewed circumstances surrounding a flash fire at U.S. Ink in East Rutherford, where seven workers were burned in a flash fire.

The CSB concluded a newly-installed system to collect dust failed at the Sun Chemical subsidiary's plant. Investigators blamed U.S. Ink for operating the defective system without testing it first. A build-up of combustible dust inside air ducts overheated, ignited and exploded.

The government report said U.S. Ink's rooftop dust collection and containment system was designed so poorly that it took little time for flammable materials to accumulate inside it. The accident occurred after a worker saw a flash fire in a bag dump where he had been loading the combustible mineral Gilsonite, close to a pre-mixing room. Other workers were drawn to the area by a thumping sound.

Flames erupted in a mixing tank and spewed a fireball toward the workers. The still-operating dust collector dragged burning materials toward the rooftop, creating an explosive atmosphere. The explosion was quelled by other safety equipment, but pressure forced air back into the pre-mixing room, where another flash fire took place.

The CSB reported that emergency responses were ineffective due to the company's failure to train workers properly. OSHA was advised to set an industry-wide standard for combustible dust levels.

Injured workers' medical bills and pay losses caused by industrial accidents are covered by workers' compensation. Carrying workers' comp insurance exempts employers from liability for workplace accidents, but it does not prevent legal claims against negligent, third-party product makers.

Source: EHS Today, "CSB: Poor Design, Failure to Test Dust Collection System Among Causes of U.S. Ink Flash Fire" Sandy Smith, Jan. 16, 2015

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