Accumulated rubber dust, combined with non-spec electrical equipment, caused the May 16 explosion and fire at Rouse Polymerics International Inc. that killed five workers and injured seven others, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The CEO of Rouse Polymerics, however, disputes this conclusion.
``On Nov. 15, OSHA delivered to Rouse management two citations citing housekeeping and electrical deficiencies, but admitted that none of the cited conditions caused the bagging bin to explode,'' Michael Rouse said in a prepared statement Nov. 19. ``It is too early to tell if, or how much, OSHA's misleading news release has damaged our ability to rebuild the business.''
It took four days for firefighters to extinguish the May blaze at Rouse Polymerics' Vicksburg headquarters. Investigators originally thought a rubber dryer in the facility flashed and caused the explosion, but both OSHA and Mr. Rouse later agreed that the bagging bin exploded.
The agency fined Rouse Polymerics $210,600, citing two willful and 22 serious violations, according to the release issued Nov. 18.
``Employees were exposed while in their work areas to fire and explosion hazards resulting from the accumulation of, and dispersion of, finely ground rubber dust,'' the OSHA citation stated as one of the willful violations.
The other was that ``equipment, wiring methods, and installations of equipment in hazardous locations were not intrinsically safe, or approved for the hazardous location, or safe for the hazardous location.'' The bagging bin and the Line #1 bagging area in the plant constituted the ``hazardous location.''
The ``serious'' violations committed by Rouse Polymerics included exposing workers to fire and explosion hazards without a proper protection system; allowing employees to work on an aerial lift without proper protective equipment; electrical hazards and training deficiencies; lack of guardrails; and employing a forklift without a seat belt.
Rouse Polymerics also had been cited by OSHA in 1997 for water on the floor caused by a leaky roof and for circuit breaker panels unprotected from water contamination, and for ``a buildup of rubber coating the floor,'' all in the grinder/dryer area. OSHA fined the firm a total of $3,525.
When Mr. Rouse first saw the Nov. 18 release, he denied ever having been fined by OSHA before Nov. 15, 2002. Later, he said the 1997 violations had been so minor that he had forgotten about them entirely.
Meanwhile, he said he is proceeding with plans to open a new, state-of-the-art facility on the site of the old factory by early spring.