Saturday, May 13, 2017

Big Ox Energy has received $51,000 in new citations from OSHA following worker injuries at its South Sioux City renewable energy plant.


Big Ox Energy has received two more citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration following investigations into reports of worker injuries at its South Sioux City renewable energy plant.

The citations, which detail nine "serious" violations and total more than $50,703 in penalties, were issued on Friday as a result of two inspections, begun Dec. 16 and Jan. 9, following two separate employer-reported incidents of worker injury.

The new citations come 3 1/2 weeks after OSHA cited the renewable energy plant with six other violations totaling an additional $50,704 in fines.

According to the citation documents issued Friday, around 6:45 p.m. on Dec. 14, employees who were not wearing breathing apparatuses or respirators were exposed to high levels of toxic gases, including hydrogen sulfide and methane, after opening a hole in the side of an anaerobic digester to install a pipe. One employee required CPR to be revived, the citation states.

Then, on Jan. 8, two employees wearing inadequate personal protective equipment suffered face, arm and body burns when exposed to a "violent chemical reaction" pouring two chemicals down a floor drain.

In relation to those incidents, Big Ox Energy has been cited for the following violations:

--Failing to select and provide appropriate respirators to the employees.

--Not identifying and evaluating the respiratory hazards in the workplace, including a "reasonable estimate" of employee exposures to the hazards.

--Not maintaining records measuring the amount of hazardous chemicals employees were exposed to.

--Failing to ensure affected employees were using selected adequate protective equipment when necessary around "reactive, corrosive chemicals." This citation item includes three sub-categories.

--Failing to ensure each authorized employee affixed his or her own lock or tag to certain devices prior to working on the equipment.

--Failing to ensure employees exposed to "corrosive oxidizers and exothermic catalitic reactions" were properly trained and understood the physical and health effects of such chemicals.

--Failing to ensure employees exposed to the reactions were trained about the proper protective equipment to wear when using the chemicals.

Kevin Bradley, Big Ox Energy's director of business and economic development, told the Journal Friday afternoon the company knew the additional citations were coming and plans to discuss all the violations with OSHA next week.

"Hopefully we can have all of that behind us very soon," he said.

An OSHA representative said Big Ox Energy has scheduled to meet with the Region 7 office Monday for an informal conference to discuss its 15 violations. Most OSHA cases are settled at an informal conference.

Bradley said all employees who were part of the incidents referred to in the newly-released citations have made full recoveries and remain employed at the facility.

As OSHA investigators have been probing operations at the plant, many residents also have blamed the facility for the hydrogen sulfide gas that penetrated their homes through the sewer line they shared at the time with the Roth Industrial Park, displacing as many as two dozen families at the odors' height last fall.

Big Ox Energy in January denied culpability for the sewer gases, saying other industries have also affected the hydrogen sulfide levels in the sewer lines and that individual plumbing deficiencies in many of the affected homes played a major role. South Sioux City's administration has largely agreed with Big Ox Energy's assessment.

Residents on Tuesday filed more than $35 million in odor-related tort claims against the city, and signaled legal action is forthcoming against Big Ox Energy.