In a recent OSHA news release, Assistant Labor Secretary Dr. David Michaels expressed strong words about the sentencing of the owner of a plant where a fatal explosion took place and took the lives of two employees who were working on a gunpowder substitute. Dr. Michaels in a way implied the owner deserved his five to 10 year sentence for two counts of manslaughter and $10,000 fine, which led the ruling court to judge the latter’s actions were indeed criminal.
“Sanborn recklessly ignored basic safety measures that would have protected their lives. His criminal conviction and sentence won’t bring these men back to life, but it will keep him from putting workers’ lives in peril,” Dr. Michaels said. “And it should drive home to employers this message: Worker safety can never be sacrificed for the benefit of production, and workers’ lives are not—and must never be—considered part of the cost of doing business. We categorically reject the false choice between profits and safety,” he said.
OSHA cited the Black Mag gunpowder plant for 16 willful violations and over 30 serious safety violations. Black Mag was also penalized $1.2 million, while Sanborn was ordered to surrender his ATF explosive manufacturing permit. The court also prevented him for establishing any explosives-related business from here on.
But still, employers still seem unfazed of the repercussions of violating OSHA’s standard for explosives and blasting agents, to which gunpowder belong. One of the biggest gunpowder plant explosions in history involved a Roxbury Township (New Jersey) explosion where 12 people were injured in 1989. The company that owned the plant, Hercules Inc., was cited for over 71 safety violations and was penalized $241,300 ($455,283.02 in 2013), according to an Associate Press report published on the New York Times. These incidences only reflect how serious related hazards are to gunpowder handling and storage, and why companies should put in extra effort in mitigating such hazards.
OSHA’s standard covering gunpowder handling is Subpart H of Hazardous Materials, 29 CFR 1910.109, Explosives and Blasting Agents. According to the US Department of Transportation, gunpowder is considered a Class 1 hazardous material, since it meets the definition set by the agency for hazardous material classifications. Based on the standard though, all materials classified as a Class A, Class B or Class C explosive by the US Department of Transportation like black powder (another term of gunpoder), pellet powder, blasting caps, safety fuse, smokeless propellants, gun cartridges and even propellant-actualted power devices, to name a few. Gunpowder is a Class A explosive since it possesses what OSHA deems as a “maximum” hazard and has the power to detonate or blast a specific site (1910.109 (a)(2)(i)).
What are the general provisions of the standard that could help employers and employees remain compliant? Per OSHA:
General Hazard. 1910.109 (b) (1) – No one is allowed to store, handle, or transport explosives when doing so poses undue danger to life.
Storage of Explosives 1910.109 (c) – All classes of explosives, even new ones should be stored in magazines that meet the requirements of the standard. The use of magazine classes (Class I and II) should also be observed.
– Explosives should not be stored in the same magazine as others.
– The ground surrounding the magazines shall be sloped away to allow drainage. Land within 25 feet of the storage should also be devoid of flammable materials like grass, leaves and shrubberies.
– Magazines for the storage of Class B and Class C explosives should be bullet-proof and resilient of fire and weather. They should also be well-ventilated. The magazines for black powder and blasting caps have to be weather and fire-resistant, and well-ventilated.
Storage Within Magazines 1910.109(c)(2)(ii) – Black powder should be stored in magazines separately from other explosives.
– Packages containing explosives should be piled on top of each other with top side up. Kegs meanwhile should stored in corners and with seams down.
– Brands and grade marks should be visible when stored for ease of sorting and inventory checks.
– The oldest magazine should be taken out of storage and its content used first.