Queensbury wood-shaving plant cited by OSHA catches fire
By Emily Masters
Updated 1:25 pm, Tuesday, September 20, 2016
QUEENSBURY— A wood-shavings plant caught fire Tuesday morning, two months after federal workplace safety officials cited the company for failing to correct "potential fire and explosion hazards."
Fire crews from four towns responded to reports of a structure fire about 7:15 a.m. at RWS Manufacturing, 22 Ferguson Lane. The blaze extended from an outside conveyor that moved wood shavings to an inside storage facility, Kingsbury Fire Chief Butch Chase said. "Something may have malfunctioned," he said.
Investigators do not consider the fire suspicious and no one was injured, Chase said. The fire was extinguished by 8 a.m.
"It's the nature of their business," Chase said.
RWS — which makes animal bedding from wood shavings for Quebec-based Royal Wood Shavings — said in July it would shut down if it is not successful in appealing $197,820 in fines from the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA claims the plant is exposing its employees to "potential fire and explosion hazards."
The equipment cited by OSHA was not involved in the blaze, Chase said. A county fire inspection of the plant last month did not identify any problems, he said.
"They are on good order with us," Chase said. He said he has toured the facility in the past and responded to three other fires on the property in the past six years.
The wood shavings produced there smoke and smolder a lot, Chase said, "but seldom burst into flames." The building itself was aflame Tuesday, he said.
RWS was operating when the fire started. Staff had safely evacuated the building and started to suppress the fire with hose lines when firefighters arrived, Chase said. The buildings' sprinkler system stayed on as the fire crews extinguished the blaze.
"They have an extensive clean-up," Chase said. RWS will undergo a town code inspection and fire chief walkthrough before opening again, he said.
In July, OSHA cited RWS for half a dozen violations totaling about $50,000 and levied an additional $147,000 in penalties after the company failed to fix previously identified violations.
The Queensbury plant, which operates in the Warren-Washington County Industrial Park, was cited for 28 violations in 2013 and fined more than $233,000 for workplace safety violations related to fire, fall and explosion risk. Two of those violations were deemed as "willful," meaning the company ignored federal safety rules.
"RWS Manufacturing has disregarded its employees' safety in failing to correct an obvious fire and explosion hazard and in allowing the existence of new and recurring hazards," said Robert Garvey, OSHA's area director in Albany in a July press release. "Especially disturbing is the fact that, since OSHA's last inspection, a significant fire occurred in the plant's production area in December 2015."
KINGSBURY, NY — Firefighters from five departments were called Tuesday morning to RWS Manufacturing for a fire that burned for nearly an hour inside the Ferguson Lane factory.
No injuries were reported in the blaze, which was called in at about 7:15 a.m. A dozen or so workers who evacuated stood on the road in front of the business, watching as firefighters put out the blaze.
The company converts wood into animal bedding, and wood shavings and dust in the factory have caught fire at least six times over the past six years, leading to an enforcement action earlier this year by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
The fire was reported knocked down at about 8 a.m., but firefighters had to remove burned material and ventilate the building. At one point, they cut a hole in a metal wall on the east side of the building.
Kingsbury Fire Chief Butch Chase said an area around a conveyor belt caught fire, but it was unclear how.
“The sprinkler system kept it in check until we got here,” Chase said.
Humid weather was also credited for helping keep the fire from spreading quickly. The area was socked in with fog early Tuesday.
Plant manager Don Student said Tuesday afternoon that an electrical problem in a junction box appeared to have caused the fire. He said cleanup of wet material was being performed Tuesday and it was hoped that manufacturing would restart Wednesday.
Chase said the cause of the fire was under investigation by Washington County fire investigators, but it was not deemed suspicious and seemed to follow a pattern of other fires there, in which sparks from equipment ignite dust or materials.
“It’s the nature of the business. You can only go so far,” he said.
Chase said the town code enforcement office inspected the plant in recent months and found no problems.
“Everything at that time was good,” he said.
Firefighters from Kingsbury, Hudson Falls, Bay Ridge, South Queensbury and Queensbury Central responded to the scene.
As firefighters battled the blaze, a house fire was reported on Elm Street in Hudson Falls, and Fort Edward firefighters quickly knocked it down, finding that a couch had caught fire. Hudson Falls Police arrived to find 21 Elm St. full of smoke, and the resident had gotten out on his own.
OSHA cited RWS in July for “failing to remedy workplace conditions that could lead to fires or explosions.” That action came after the last fire there, which occurred Dec. 22.
“RWS Manufacturing has disregarded its employees’ safety in failing to correct an obvious fire and explosion hazard and in allowing the existence of new and recurring hazards,” said Robert Garvey, OSHA’s area director in Albany, in a July 13 statement announcing the OSHA citations.
The citations, which carry potential fines of up to $197,820, came out of a Jan. 13 follow-up inspection at the plant, which at that point had at least five fires requiring emergency response since 2010. OSHA also cited the company in 2013.
Student said the company was negotiating a potential settlement with OSHA.
“We expect that to wash out positively for us,” he said.
The plant is owned by Royal Wood Shavings, based in Quebec, Canada.