Verso Paper fined for fatal explosionby Conrad Wilson, Minnesota Public Radio
COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. — The Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Division has cited Verso Paper Corporation with two serious violations at its mill in Sartell.
The mill was destroyed in an explosion and fire on Memorial Day that killed one worker. According to the agency report issued Wednesday, the violations may have contributed to or caused the accident.
The morning of the accident, an employee discovered a leaking water valve. Employees met with management and determined the mill's only remaining paper-making machine needed to be shut down for repairs.
According to the Minnesota OSHA report, an air compressor that should have shut down remained running. The compressor's temperature reached over 300 degrees and it caught fire and exploded. The State Fire Marshal's Office issued a report in August that also cited an overheated compressor as the cause of the accident.
Employee Jon Maus tried to put out the fire, but was killed when the air compressor exploded.
Minnesota OSHA first cited Verso because the company did not have a comprehensive plan for shutting down the machinery during maintenance. The company received the second citation because its plan was not reviewed or updated periodically.
In late 2010, the air compressors at the mill were changed from air cooled, to water cooled, James Honerman, Minnesota OSHA spokesman, said.
"If the employer isn't conducting annual inspections and doesn't realize that shutting things down in an improper order — such as turning off the water — that would affect how the air compressor may overheat and start on fire," Honerman said.
Verso paid over $39,000 in fines for the two citations.
"In general, it is a significant penalty due to the fact that there was a fatality that occurred at the work site," Honerman said.
Honerman said under state law there is a nonnegotiable penalty if OSHA finds a serious hazard that causes or contributes to the death of an employee.
"It's not clear why the company did not have a process in place for power down the Sartell mill. Bill Cohen, a spokesperson for Verso, declined to comment.
"What this does is reminds us to look around and make sure that we're following those procedures, make sure that they are fresh," Cohen said. "Sometimes it's a tragedy like this that makes us kind of (say), OK, we better make sure and look again.'"
In August, Verso announced the Sartell mill was too damaged to reopen and laid off 259 workers. The company also has two mills in Maine and one in Michigan.
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- All Things Considered, 12/19/2012, 5:55 p.m.