Company Fined More than $1.4M for Worker Death at Houston Facility

January 6, 2010

Federal regulators have fined a Houston company $1,477,500 for a July 2009 explosion that left a worker dead. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited CES Environmental Services Inc. after an investigation into the death of 45-year-old Bruce Clayton Howard who was killed while cleaning a tank at a CES facility in Houston.

OSHA said an altered piece of equipment ignited flammable vapors inside the tank. Federal regulators noted that the fatality was the third death in less than a year CES facilities; two hydrogen sulfide exposure-related deaths at a related facility, Port Arthur Chemical & Environmental Services LLC (PACES), occurred in December 2008 and April 2009.

Based on the most recent investigation, OSHA issued 15 willful citations with proposed penalties totaling $1,050,000, alleging that 15 pieces of electrical equipment were unsafe to use in the tank wash area due to the presence of flammable and combustible vapors.

Two additional willful citations with proposed penalties totaling $125,000 have been issued. One alleges that CES failed to ventilate tanks in which employees were working, exposing the workers to toxic atmospheric hazards. The other alleges that CES stored flammable and reactive chemicals together, which posed fire and explosion hazards.

In addition, OSHA issued 54 serious violations with proposed penalties totaling $302,500. These include allegations that CES failed to implement all aspects of the process safety management standard; provide proper respiratory protection, confined space rescue equipment and adequate fall protection; properly install and maintain boiler equipment; implement an emergency response plan, and adequate energy control procedures; train powered industrial truck operators; guard and to anchor machinery adequately; store compressed gas cylinders safely; and label hazardous chemicals.

CES attorney K.A.D. Camara of Houston says the company will fight the penalties and is working diligently to ensure the safety of its many employees in Houston and Port Arthur.

The Houston Chronicle reports company president Matt Bowman has the worker disregarded safety rules. Relatives of Howard say he never had adequate training.

OSHA and Associated Press reports contributed to this story.

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