Barge maker fined for closed-space blast that killed worker, seriously injured another

A Tennessee dredge barge manufacturer has paid a $32,620 fine after an enclosed-space explosion killed one worker and seriously injured another.

The accident at Dredge & Marine Co. in Nashville, Tenn., happened when paint fumes caught on fire while a crew was applying coatings to the interior of a vessel, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said.

"One worker died and another was severely burned when a spark from a light ignited paint vapors inside the compartment of a pontoon dredge, which was being painted to reduce corrosion." OSHA said in a December 2011 statement.

Shawn Austin, 28, of Nashville, died as a result of the blast on July 2, 2011.

The Millersville, Tenn.-based company received an OSHA citation for 12 serious violations. Safety violations included "exposing employees to explosion and fire hazards when exhaust ventilation was inadequate and failing to use explosion-proof lighting." the agency's report said.

Dredge & Marine also was accused of "using an extension cord with a missing ground prong; exposing employees to explosion and fire hazards from a non-explosion-proof fan with nonferrous blades; failing to ensure paint buckets, spray guns and cell phones were properly stored to prevent sparking; failing to permit the bonding of spray guns and metallic parts; and failing to provide fall protection to employees working from the barge deck."

OSHA said the company committed health violations including not testing the confined space's oxygen content, failing to train the employees on safety, failing to provide a shipyard rescue team, failing to stop work after painting to confirm that the confined space was safe for entry and not constantly monitoring the atmosphere in the enclosed space.

"It is the employer's responsibility to ensure that workers are trained and provided with appropriate equipment so they can perform their duties safely." said William Cochran, an OSHA area director.

OSHA initially fined Dredge & Marine a total of $46,600, but the penalty was reduced after an informal settlement meeting.

"The company agreed to correct the violations," Michael Wald, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Labor, said in January.

Dredge & Marine Co., a division of John W. MacDougall Co., manufactures and reconditions marine dredges. The company referred a request for comment to Dredge & Marine President Tom Kroeger, who didn't respond.

Austin left behind a wife and three children, according to an obituary. The city fire marshal also is investigating the explosion.

By Professional Mariner Staff