A Feb. 14 no contest plea to felony charges has been entered by two employees of a California plastics plant that were directly involved in using a residential water heater rather than a commercial boiler in a plastic extrusion process. The end result was an explosion on March 19, 2009 that killed two workers instantly and sent the water heater through the roof of the the plant.
A plant manager and a maintenance supervisor had been involved in trying to meet a deadline that their company had set for completing a move from a Pennsylvania plant to one in Rancho Santa Margarita. They decided to purchase a residential hot-water heater from a Lowes store in part because the permitting process for the needed commercial boiler would have cause them to miss a company deadline. They started operations just using the water heater on Nov. 29, 2007, the “firm and final deadline” that had been imposed by company executives in Pennsylvania.
Now the two have agreed to pay $450,000 in fines to the families of the deceased workers. They have also agreed to perform 250 hours of community service. The judge in the case stated that if the fines are paid within 90 days and one-third of the community service is competed by Feb. 16, 2015, the charges will be reduced to misdemeanors and a sentence of probation will result.
The incident had already resulted in action on a number of levels. OSHA had levied fines totaling $98,800 after five serious violations and one willfull violation was cited at the now-closed facility. Also, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has filed a pending civil suit against the companies involved with the plant prior to the accident: Emerson Electric, Solus Industrial Innovations, and Emerson Power Transmission Corporation.
Emerson Electric had acquired the plant in December 2008, and it had even shut the plant down for a time after a safety inspection in February 2009. However, when the plant re-opened, the residential water heater was still in use. The fatal accident occurred the month after.
When a worker is killed due to unsafe work conditions, the survivors of the family member that died can consider filing a wrongful death lawsuit that can seek compensation from any negligent parties that were involved.
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