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Company, State Blamed for Fatal Accident

October 4, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 40

Inadequate engineering and weak state regulations were among problems cited by the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board for a chemical accident that killed six workers and injured 38 others at a North Carolina medical supply manufacturer in January 2003. The explosion at West Pharmaceutical Services Inc. was caused by the ignition of polyethylene dust that had accumulated in a false ceiling above a production floor where synthetic rubber was made and processed. In a report, the board said the accident could have been avoided if the company had had adequate controls in place to limit, isolate, and control explosive dust or if the state had required North Carolina companies to comply with National Fire Code controls on combustible dust. The report also noted that the Material Safety Data Sheet prepared by Crystal Inc.-PMC--the vendor that supplied the powder that led to the explosion--should be rewritten, since it did not consider the combustible nature of the dust when in a dry state. The board also urged the state Labor Department to identify similar at-risk companies and conduct an outreach program to prevent future accidents. The board added that this investigation is one of three it is conducting that involve explosive dust accidents. In all, 14 workers died. The board, an independent federal investigatory agency, is considering a national initiative to reduce such accidents.


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