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Electrical Malfunction Burns Down Apartment Building in CA

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Berkeley, CA – A devastating fire that tore through a Berkeley apartment building began with an electrical malfunction in the basement, fire investigators said Wednesday.

The fire was apparently an accident, starting in the elevator machinery and quickly engulfing the historic four-story apartment building just south of the UC Berkeley campus, according to the Berkeley Fire Department’s initial findings.

The Nov. 18 blaze, Berkeley’s largest since the 1991 hills firestorm, destroyed 39 apartments and two popular restaurants at Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street. Nearly all the 70 displaced residents were students or recent graduates.

The building owner could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but tenants said the building had a history of electrical problems, one of which caused a fire on the roof in February and another that trapped residents in an elevator. The owner of the building lost a small claims case in 2006 in which a tenant claimed his laptop and bedding were destroyed after an electrical short-circuit.

Story via SFGate.com

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Electrical Arc from Exposed Wire Likely Cause of Ignition Source that Killed Worker

December 1, 2011 Leave a comment
Tennessee – A Gallatin metal powders factory where five workers died in flash fires earlier this year said in a statement Wednesday that it is improving safety at the plant.

The Hoeganaes Corp. issued its statement hours after the release of a highly critical investigative report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. The federal agency found that airborne iron dust at Hoeganaes ignited and created a fireball, burning workers in separate accidents in January, March and May of this year.

Board members said the accidents were preventable.

Hoeganaes said Wednesday that the company is developing what it called “an industry leading powder metal dust management system.” The statement said this and other actions are being taken “to ensure that similar accidents will not happen again.”

The Cinnaminson, N.J.,-based company produces atomized steel and iron powders for the automotive and other industries with facilities in the U.S., Germany, China and Romania. It is a subsidiary of GKN, a British multinational engineering company.

The Safety Board presented the results of its investigation into the three accidents during a public meeting in Gallatin where the widow of one of the workers killed at the Hoeganaes plant spoke on a panel.

Chris Sherburne, whose husband Wiley Sherburne died in January, told the board, “I’ve been asked to explain how our lives have been affected. I don’t know if I can actually do that.

“Everything changed that morning. We walked into the hospital and the first thing the doctors told us was that he was burned on 95 percent of his body and they didn’t think he was going to make it. There’s nothing you can say to that.”

She said the five workers who were killed have, all told, left several children behind.

“Everyday something they say or something they do – it’s heartbreaking. And the questions they ask, there’s just no answer,” she said.

Safety board investigators at the meeting blamed the accidents on a thick accumulation of combustible iron dust throughout the facility, and said the likely ignition source for the January accident that killed Wiley Sherburne and a co-worker was an electrical arc from exposed wiring that was not properly grounded.

In a subsequent accident in March that caused one injury, the dust may have been ignited by an open-flamed furnace. In another accident in May that killed three workers, hydrogen gas leaking from a corroded pipe exploded and then ignited falling dust.

Hoeganaes said in its statement that the Gallatin plant, which employs about 180 people, temporarily ceased production after the May 27 explosion and the company hired two outside firms to undertake a comprehensive safety review. Some of the recommendations being implemented include an upgrade of the electrical systems and replacement of the gas and air supply system. The company also says it is upgrading “gas management and hydrogen detection systems.”

Investigators criticized management for having no regular maintenance and inspection of the hydrogen lines and no procedure for how to deal with suspected leaks.

The safety board also found that multiple reports of earlier small fires, and even a deadly fire in 1996 at a New Jersey facility, did not spur Hoeganaes to try to mitigate the hazard. And it found workers were given no trainingto help them understand the dangers they faced.

According to the company’s statement, it is undertaking “full and comprehensive retraining of all employees.”

Investigators also faulted the Gallatin Fire Department for not recognizing that the iron dust accumulated on surfaces around the plant were a fire hazard when it inspected two weeks before the May accident.

According to the Hoeganaes statement, “The Company deeply regrets the loss of life at Gallatin” and is “taking every measure to ensure that Gallatin operates to world class standards.”

At the safety board meeting, investigator David Chicca was asked about measures Hoeganaes has taken to improve safety.

Chicca said during his last tour in August, the company was vacuuming up the dust and had made some effort to seal the dust collection system but had not yet done enough to guarantee that there would not be further accidents.

Story via ClaimsJournal.com

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Managers Blamed for NV Mine Deaths – Lack of Electrical System Maintenance Cited

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment

RENO, NV –  Two Nevadans were killed in a mining accident partly because someone wedged a broom handle against a reset button to bypass an alarm that would have shut down the system, federal safety investigators said.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration said Monday that managers of Barrick Goldstrike’s Meikle Mine are responsible for the August 2010 accident in Carlin that killed Daniel Noel, 47, and Joel “Ethan” Schorr, 38.

The two Spring Creek men were struck by a pipe that gave way in a ventilation shaft because it was clogged with excessive waste rock material.

MSHA said the pipe overfilled because the broom handle kept the loading system from tripping off. The agency blames managers for failing to ensure the safe operation, inspection and maintenance of the mine.

“Management failed to ensure that the pipe, its support system, and electrical system were maintained in a safe condition to protect all persons who could be exposed to a hazard from any failure of the system,” MSHA said in the new report issued Monday.

“Additionally, management failed to maintain the electrical sensors and alarm systems and ensure that these systems could not be by-passed. A broom handle was used to wedge the electrical control panel reset button so the aggregate delivery system would continue to operate and not trip out,” the report said.

MSHA issued Toronto-based Barrick six safety violations as a result of the accident. MSHA terminated the last of the safety orders stemming from those violations on June 21 after Barrick constructed a new aggregate delivery system that eliminated the hazards, the agency said.

Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman for MSHA’s parent Labor Department in Washington, said now that the investigative report is complete, MSHA officials will begin to consider what, if any, fines are warranted for each of the six safety violations.

Fines can range anywhere from $60 to $220,000 per violation, Louivere said. Once notified of an assessment, a company has 30 days to either pay it or contest it, she said.

Greg Lang, president of Barrick Gold of North America, said the findings “affirm Barrick’s belief that every accident is preventable.”

“While we have made great progress over many years at Barrick, this tragic accident reminds all of us that we have yet to achieve our goal of zero accidents and zero injuries,” Lang said in a statement on Monday. He said the company will thoroughly review MSHA’s report “to identify actions that need to be taken to prevent a similar accident at Meikle or any other Barrick mine.”

“Nothing can compensate for the impact that the loss of Dan Noel and Ethan Schorr has had on their loved ones and everyone who knew them, and our thoughts and prayers remain with their families,” he said.

The men were being lowered in the cage to inspect the pipe when the accident occurred about 2 a.m. on Aug. 12, 2010. Rescue crews found their bodies 32 hours later at an area about 1,300 feet below ground at the mine about 55 miles northwest of Elko and 275 miles northeast of Reno.

It marked the sixth and seventh fatalities at the mine since it opened in 1994.

One worker told investigators he had been asked to be on lookout on the day shift before the accident “because another employee had wedged a broom handle against the electrical control panel reset button and he wanted to be alerted if a supervisor was approaching,” MSHA’s report said.

MSHA investigators discovered a modified broom handle hidden near the instrument panel reset button.

“The end of the broom handle had been shaped with a notch of the correct size to allow it to be used to jam the panel reset button,” the report said. “Investigators positioned the broom handle and found it to fit perfectly when wedged between an electrical junction box and the instrument panel reset button.”

Story via FoxNews.com

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