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OSHA issues nearly $1.6 million fine to Waukegan company after 4 killed in plant explosion

Fire crews work to extinguish the fire after an explosion at a chemical plant in Waukegan on May 3, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Rudolph of Box Alarm Photography.

AB Specialty Silicones was cited for 12 willful federal safety violations and fined nearly $1.6 million following the explosion at the company’s Waukegan plant in May which left four employees dead.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the company for willful violations, which means “the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.”

The company faces $1,591,176 in penalties and OSHA has placed the silicon chemical products manufacturer in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

“OSHA investigators determined AB Specialty Silicones failed to ensure that electrical equipment and installations in the production area of the plant complied with OSHA electrical standards, and were approved for hazardous locations,” the U.S. Department of Labor said.

“The company also used forklifts powered by liquid propane to transport volatile flammable liquids, and operated these forklifts in areas where employees handled and processed volatile flammable liquids and gases, creating the potential for ignition,” the U.S. Department of Labor added.

AB Specialty Silicones has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before an independent commission.

“By ignoring safety and health requirements, this employer created an unsafe work environment with deadly consequences,” Loren Sweatt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of OSHA, said.

“An employer’s adherence to safety and health standards, including the proper use of electrical equipment and forklifts when handling flammable liquids, is critical to preventing fire, explosions and other incidents that can seriously or fatally injure workers,” OSHA Acting Regional Administrator Nancy Hauter said.

Fire crews work to extinguish the fire after an explosion at a chemical plant in Waukegan on May 3, 2019 | Photo: Felipe Mujica.

The May 3 explosion caused more than $1 million in damage and damaged at least five other buildings in the area of the plant, which is located at 3790 Sunset Avenue in Waukegan. Nine people were working in the AB Speciality Silicones plant at the time of the explosion.

Of the nine employees, four were found dead in the ruble, three escaped the building but suffered injuries and two of them escaped without injury.

The four victims killed were identified as Jeff Cummings, 57, of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Byron H. Biehn, 53, of Brighton Township, Wisconsin, Daniel Nicklas, 24, of Beach Park, and Allen E. Stevens Jr., 29, of Salem, Wisconsin.

Cummings, who was a supervisor at the plant, noticed a problem just before the blast and reportedly helped evacuate employees. He went back inside the building to look for remaining employees when the explosion occurred.

Stevens had been transported by ambulance to an area hospital and later transferred to the Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood where he died.

Residents throughout Lake County reported feeling and hearing the explosion and some even felt it from more than 15 miles away.

Debris from the explosion covered Sunset Avenue near Northwestern Avenue as over 100 firefighters from throughout Lake County and Cook County responded to the scene.

AB Speciality Silicones is a manufacturing and distribution company that specializes in producing raw silicone products.

The fire was deemed accidental by fire investigators, who said that chemicals reacted and caused the explosion.


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