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Hawaii workplace safety regulator looks into blast

Hawaii workplace safety regulator looks into blast

April 12th, 2011 by AUDREY McAVOY, Associated Press in News

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii's workplace safety regulator has launched an investigation into the company responsible for the fireworks that exploded in a storage facility last week to determine if it has any record of violating safety laws.

Department of Labor spokesman Bill Kunstman said Monday that the state's Occupational Safety and Health office hasn't found any record of past safety violations involving the company, but officials have yet to finish searching through its files. Federal occupational safety investigators were also due to help their state counterparts in the probe, he said.

The Honolulu Fire Department is investigating the cause of the explosions and fire. But its investigators still haven't been able to enter the bunker where the fireworks were stored because of the danger posed by fireworks that haven't exploded.

"There are still some hazards in the bunker. It makes it difficult to determine what's going to happen next. This isn't a very common or usual situation for a fire department to have to investigate," said Capt. Terry Seelig.

Five people died in the Friday blast that was so ferocious it scorched trees 40 feet away. The explosion happened in a former military bunker where fireworks and other items were stored. Investigators still do not know what ignited the fireworks.

Police officers went in to the bunker over the weekend to remove the bodies of two men who were killed, but they wore bulky protective suits to shield them from any blasts.

The fire department was investigating jointly with Honolulu police, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Seelig said.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which investigates industrial chemical accidents, has sent a team of four investigators and one spokeswoman to Hawaii for an independent probe into the root cause of the incident, agency spokesman Daniel Horowitz said.

The company that employed the workers, Donaldson Enterprises, had a contract with a federal agency to destroy illegal fireworks that had been confiscated, Seelig said. The bunker it leased housed large aerial fireworks of the kind often used in public displays on the Fourth of July, New Year's and other occasions.

A woman who answered the phone at Donaldson Enterprises said that no one was available to discuss the explosion.