MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - A federal agency investigating a December explosion that killed three men announced Tuesday it cited a New Cumberland chemical plant for 18 violations, 16 of them considered serious and one labeled "willful."
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said titanium and zirconium recycler AL Solutions could have prevented the tragedy but instead exposed workers to unnecessary risks. The proposed fines total $154,000.
"It is imperative that employers take steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment," said David Michaels, assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor for OSHA.
AL Solutions said it was aware of OSHA's action, but the accident remains under investigation by other agencies, and it cannot comment until all of them are complete.
In January, the chief investigator for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said his team believes either metal shavings or dust were the fuel for the explosion, but they were trying to determine which form ignited and how.
The victims were processing both metals when the blast happened Dec. 9. Killed were brothers Jeff Fish and James Fish, both of New Cumberland, and co-worker Steven Swain of Weirton.
It was the third fatal explosion at the Northern Panhandle plant in 15 years.
The CSB, which is collaborating with OSHA, tries to find out more than just what happened the day of the accident. It also looks into how industries and companies manage and control known hazards, so the team wants to learn about AL Solutions' safety procedures and how well employees understood the dangers of the materials they handled.
CSB spokeswoman Hillary Cohen said the investigation is continuing.
"We have contracted with a combustible dust expert and plan on conducting testing on the material found at AL Solutions in the near future," Cohen said in a statement.
OSHA, however, cited as a willful violation the use of an unsafe water sprinkler system with flammable materials. That created an explosion hazard, it said.
A willful violation is one committed with knowledge of and disregard for the law, or with indifference to worker safety.
OSHA's serious violations included failure to provide a proper hydrogen gas detection system, over-pressure protection, emergency egress, personal protective equipment and hazard communication training. It also cited AL Solutions for failing to safely store flammable materials and ensure the safe use of forklifts.
A minor violation was for failing to keep proper injury and illness records.
OSHA said AL Solutions is now in its Severe Violators Enforcement Program, designed to focus on "recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations."
AL Solutions, which also has a plant in Washington, Mo., has 15 days to comply, contest or request a conference on the citations.