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OSHA cites company for violations at Nitro plant

NITRO, W.Va. -- The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday cited a Nitro chemical plant for a dozen serious violations that regulators said led to a worker's death.

Federal regulators cited AC&S Inc. with 12 violations following an investigation into the death of AC&S worker Rex Wilcoxen, who died after inhaling dangerous gases while working in the plant's railcar cleaning unit on June 25.

Authorities said Wilcoxen was sandblasting the railcar when he suddenly fell over.

When emergency crews arrived, Wilcoxen was unconscious. He was rushed to a nearby hospital and was treated for hazardous gas inhalation, but he died several days later.

Kanawha County fire coordinator C.W. Sigman told the Daily Mail in July that Wilcoxen was wearing a breathing apparatus at the time he collapsed. He said no other hazardous chemicals were found at the scene.

Following an investigation into the incident, OSHA officials determined that Wilcoxen collapsed after his breathing apparatus was unintentionally connected to the wrong source.

Instead of connecting his supply line to a source of breathable air, Wilcoxen's supplied air hood was unintentionally connected to a nitrogen gas line.

The nitrogen displaced the available oxygen in Wilcoxen's hood, and he passed out.

Officials cited the company for several serious violations, which are those that lead to substantial probability of death or serious physical harm.

Regulators said AC&S failed to properly label its nitrogen gas lines at connection points, and did not ensure its breathable air couplings were incompatible with other gas systems.

"ACS has a responsibility to ensure that its workers are safeguarded from workplace hazards and by not properly labeling its gas systems failed to protect a worker who ended up losing his life," said Prentice Cline, director of OSHA's Charleston are office.

"That is intolerable," Cline said. "OSHA's standards are designed to prevent this kind of tragic incident."

Other violations say AC&S did not provide training on hazardous chemicals, ensure stairways wider than 44 inches have handrails on each side, provide process safety information and process hazard analysis or document that all equipment complied with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices.

Regulators have proposed penalties totaling $42,700 against the company. It has 15 days to either comply, request a conference with OSHA officials or contest the penalties with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

In a statement released Thursday, the company indicated it plans to work with regulators on safety improvements. 

"As safety is paramount, we began working with OSHA immediately following the accident to address its concerns and do all that we can to ensure that this type of accident will never happen again," the company said.

"The loss was very difficult for all of us within this small company and our greatest sympathy goes to the family of Rex Wilcoxen," the statement said. "We have counseled and supported our employees as we have dealt with the loss of a friend and co-worker." Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/JaredWV.


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