OSHA finds plant explosion that killed 1 person could have been prevented

BOSTON — The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined that an explosion that killed one worker at a pharmaceutical chemical plant in Massachusetts could have been prevented and proposed a fine of nearly $300,000.

The May explosion at the Seqens plant in Newburyport, Massachusetts, killed Jack O’Keefe, 62, of Methuen. Video showed most of the roof was torn off a building.

The results of the OSHA investigation announced Thursday found that Seqens and its subsidiary PolyCarbon Industries Inc. had “no guarantees” in the chemical production process. The investigation found numerous deficiencies in the facility’s safety management program for highly hazardous chemicals. It also found that the company had failed to identify the flammability hazards of materials used in the production of the chemical Dekon 139 and failed to include safe upper and lower temperature limits to prevent the decomposition of Dekon 139.

O’Keefe was killed when a pressure vessel exploded.

The conditions found during the investigation led OSHA to cite both companies with eleven violations, including eight serious ones, and propose a $298,254 fine. Representatives from the companies are expected to meet Tuesday with the company, which has until Nov. 29 to either settle with OSHA or contest the citations and penalties.

“The requirements of OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard are stringent and comprehensive because failure to fully comply with them can have a serious or catastrophic impact on workers, which in this case could cost an employee their life,” said OSHA’s Area Director Sarah Carle in Andover, MA. . “Employers must rigorously, completely and continuously examine, update and maintain every part of the process to identify and minimize hazards and protect the safety and health of employees.”

Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon said it was “very saddening to see that this incident was preventable.”

“We will continue to work with these partners to determine the best path forward and ensure that neighboring businesses, schools and homes are protected from these dangerous practices that OSHA is now penalizing,” he said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Seqens did not respond to a request for comment.

The factory, formerly known as PCI Synthesis, is located just over 30 miles north of Boston and has had a series of problems over the years. That prompted U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton — in whose district the facility is located — to write to the company in May demanding a full accounting of what happened.

A chemical fire in the building in June 2021 caused smoke to pour from roof vents, prompting a hazardous materials team to respond, according to a fire department statement at the time.

In 2020, authorities said a chemical reaction caused a series of explosions at the factory. That came a year after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found “serious” violations in the company’s handling of highly hazardous chemicals, according to online agency data.

The plant has also been cited by OSHA for workplace safety violations and paid a fine of more than $50,000 in 2019 to settle the Environmental Protection Agency’s charge of violating hazardous waste laws.