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Regulators propose fine for fatal blast at chemical plant

June 29, 2021 GMT

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Federal regulators are proposing a $12,288 fine in response to an explosion and fire at a West Virginia chemical plant that killed a worker and injured three other people.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed that Optima Belle LLC pay the penalty in a citation issued this month, saying the plant in Kanawha County violated federal code that requires employers to provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees,” the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

The agency found that the company left employees exposed to hazards while they conducted a chemical drying process on a solid chlorinated product, according to regulators. John Gillenwater, 42, of Hurricane, was killed in the Dec. 8 explosion.

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Optima Belle can abate the violation by developing policies and training to prevent similar occurrences in the future, regulators said. The company could also contest and litigate the case, OSHA spokeswoman Lenore Uddyback-Fortson said. If the company accepts the citation as issued, the fine would become a final order, she said.

Optima Belle has scheduled an informal conference to discuss the citation, she said.

The newspaper reports that it could not reach an Optima Belle spokesman for comment.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is still investigating the incident, board spokeswoman Hillary Cohen said.