Thursday, October 13, 2016

Byron, GA-based Pyrotechnic Specialties Inc. is facing $176,375 in proposed OSHA penalties in connection with an April flash fire that severely injured a worker.

Pyrotechnic Specialties cited in April flash fire, faces $176,375 in proposed penalties

By Becky Purser

Byron-based Pyrotechnic Specialties Inc. is facing $176,375 in proposed penalties in connection with an April flash fire that severely injured a worker.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the company for one willful, five serious and one other-than-serious safety violations, OSHA spokesman Michael D’Aquino said an in email.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Pyrotechnic Specialties has scheduled a conference with OSHA for Wednesday, Aquino said.

The plant at 1661 Juniper Creek Road manufactures munitions for the government and law enforcement.

Efforts to reach David J. Karlson, the company’s CEO, were unsuccessful.

Johnny Barrett was seriously burned in the April 12 flash fire at the plant and required hospitalization at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta.

The fire occurred during the processing of a pyrotechnic material — waste boron potassium nitrate — in Building No. 90, according to OSHA documents.

According to OSHA, Pyrotechnic Specialties willfully violated a federal requirement to perform a hazard evaluation related to the production of boron potassium nitrate in Building No. 95 and treatment of off-spec boron potassium nitrate in Building No. 90.

As a result, employees working in those buildings were exposed to “overpressure shock hazards and thermal radiation skin burn hazards,” the citation said.

The proposed penalty for this willful violation alone was $112,238, according to the citation.

In relation to the serious violations, OSHA found that procedures and practices related to the production of pyrotechnic materials and in the waste treatment of off-spec pyrotechnic materials “constituted an undue hazard to life.’’

Among the serious violations related to Building 90, where Barrett was working, was the lack of grounding procedures for the processing of waste boron potassium nitrate.

The other-than-serious violation dealt with the company failing to notify OSHA within 24 hours of the April 12 hospitalization of Barrett. The company notified the OSHA hotline at 6:34 p.m. the next day, according to the citation.

Pyrotechnic Specialties has come under federal scrutiny before.

In January 2009, a federal judge dismissed an indictment against the company, Karlson and several employees who were accused of multiple charges of conspiracy, money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the government. Investigators had alleged that Pyrotechnic Specialties had relabeled flash-bang grenades that were faulty, claiming that they met military standards.

When the charges were dismissed, the judge criticized how the government pursued the case.

According to the initial indictment, Pyrotechnic Specialties had a $15 million contract with the Department of Defense. The company also manufactured a similar device for law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, which entered into an exclusive contract with Pyrotechnic Specialties between 2000 and 2005, according to the indictment.

Three Philadelphia-based FBI agents were injured when one of the devices went off prematurely while an agent carried it in his vest in 2004, the indictment stated. The agents sustained burns and hearing loss as a result, an FBI spokesperson said.

In August 2006, an explosion at the plant destroyed one of its buildings, created a 500-foot mushroom cloud and sent shock waves for 15 miles. The blast happened in the middle of the night, and no one was injured.

Information from The Telegraph archives was used in this report.