Tuesday, August 18, 2015

OSHA questions maintenance records, but doesn't fine firm in fatal Bristol Township silo collapse

Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2015 



Three seconds. That was all the time Tony Gabriele had to react after an earthquake-like shaking started in the control room of a Bristol Township cement storage and distribution center, where he worked as a maintenance mechanic. 
Security video from inside the room — in a trailer next to a 125-foot tall steel silo — showed a severe vibration started suddenly, about 10 minutes before midnight on Jan. 7, according to the results of a recently completed federal safety investigation into the silo's fatal collapse.
Gabriele’s reflection was seen in a window as he jumped up and tried to move away. But he had no time to escape to safety after the collapse of the silo containing more than 32,000 tons of cement powder at Riverside Construction Materials, according to the draft report issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and obtained by the newspaper through a Freedom of Information Act request.  The final version of the report will be the draft, an OSHA spokeswoman confirmed. 
The body of the 49-year-old Bristol Township man was found four days later, buried under cement powder and debris near the office trailer about 40 feet from the silo. An autopsy found he died of multiple injuries as a result of being buried.
Tony Gabriele
The federal investigation into the cause of the silo collapse took OSHA six months and 11 site visits. The draft report concludes the accident likely occurred because of a combination of successive cycles of heating and cooling that led to cracks in the steel shell and the recent use of explosives to loosen hardened cement at the bottom of the silo.
No fines were issued for safety or health violations since OSHA didn't find any definitive evidence that Silvi Group Companies, which owns Riverside Construction Materials, violated standards and laws. But the agency noted the company had "inadequate maintenance records" for the silo that collapsed. The company also operates other related businesses in Bucks and Chester counties, and in New Jersey.
The OSHA report recommended the company hire a professional engineer familiar with the operation of cement storage and distribution to inspect the two remaining cement storage domes on the property to ensure safety standards. The agency is finalizing comprehensive safety recommendations for the company and those recommendations will be available to the media and public after they're completed, an OSHA spokeswoman said.
Philadelphia attorney Ben Huggett, who is representing the Silvi Group Companies in matters related to the accident, said the company agrees with the agency’s “ultimate conclusion” that there were no violations of law associated with what he called the “tragic accident.” The company hasn't received any OSHA report identifying any of its findings related to its operations as a result of the investigation, he said.
No structural damage was discovered in the remaining cement storage domes during an inspection by the original manufacturer, Huggett said. He disputed the OSHA contention that the company's records were inadequate, stating the "majority" of records were destroyed as a result of the accident.
OSHA's report noted that leftover cement and cement dust in the steel silo had been exposed to water, primarily as the result of a leaky roof. That material hardened over the years, forming chunks ranging from softball to boulder size that blocked the flow of cement into the tunnel and the chucks were found in the debris field after the collapse, inspectors noted.
A month before the collapse, the company twice used explosives in the silo to dislodge cement “rocks” blocking the bottom discharge gate, according to OSHA.
A seismograph was used to monitor a residential building located 650 feet away from the blasting site, but it wasn't used to monitor the silo shell, about 60 feet from the blasting. The waves induced by the blasting could “easily” have traveled to the silo shell and “possibly caused a crack in the relatively rigid weld,” OSHA found, which is why it concluded blasting could have contributed to the fatal collapse.
OSHA also cited a phenomenon called thermal ratcheting as possibly contributing to the collapse. In thermal ratcheting, the walls of outdoor metal structures expand during the day and contract at night when temperatures drop. The movement of the cement dust in that process could cause increased tension in the walls, leading to fractures, the report stated.
The agency found the steel silo at Riverside Construction Materials before the collapse was in a “very similar” condition to one involved in a 1996 collapse in the southwest U.S., where thermal ratcheting was identified as the cause, the report said.
The report also stated that most of the information involving the steel silo’s use, maintenance and repair records came from company officials, not documents. The company had no site plan or record of the silo shell thickness, which would have guided the adequate maintenance necessary, the report found. While OSHA noted that cracks in the roof had developed at times and had been repaired, no records exist of the exact type, size, quality or method of repair. Logs, policies and programs and documentations of activities on site were largely destroyed in the collapse, OSHA said.
“With the complete destruction of the site, the scope of the inspection was limited primarily to the actual accident,” the report said.
The collapse wasn’t discovered until an hour after it occurred, when a Bristol Township police officer on routine patrol noticed heavy dust in the air at the property. The officer notified Bucks County Fire Rescue about the accident, according to OSHA.
The federal agency found that a power loss resulting from the collapse triggered an automatic alert through the company’s security system at 12:06 a.m. Jan. 8 — less than a half hour after the collapse. But there was no warning siren or automated 911 notification, the report found. The company’s emergency action plan described all notifications as being conducted by phone, a method that met OSHA requirements, the report said.
Video footage from another security camera in a different part of the destroyed control room prior to the collapse showed the actual breech of the silo. The subsequent accident investigation found the silo failed at the side closest to the control room.
The surveillance video shows the cracking began near the bottom of the silo near the entrance to the tunnel, where the cement powder is discharged, and continued upward. A second vertical crack toward the river side of the silo occurred, but it likely developed as the silo lost structural integrity, the report speculated. In addition to the control room, a bulk truck filling station was also destroyed in the collapse.
The collapsed silo, which company officials referred to as the “steel silo,” was the middle one of three silos used to store cement powder. It had a 32,500 ton capacity and was manufactured in the 1980s. The silo was filled to near capacity when it collapsed, OSHA found. OSHA’s engineering evaluations found that, under normal conditions, the silo shell should have been able to contain the stored cement without failure, so its design met federal standards.
Finding Gabriele's body took roughly 100 hours following the collapse. The Edgely Fire Co. and 15 other local fire companies from Lower and Upper Bucks County, technical rescue teams, local police departments, contractors and other community members searched for the worker. Firefighters working in shifts sifted through several thousand tons of cement powder and used heavy equipment to remove steel beams of the collapsed tangled steel silo building.

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