Cal/OSHA Investigation Leads to $108,300 Fine for Sierra Pacific Industries After Fatal Accident

April 30th, 2021 by Drew Vass, Executive Editor

The State of California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) cited Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) with a $108,300 fine, after one of its employees was fatally injured in an accident involving an air compressor. The announcement from Cal/OSHA arrived April 22, 2021, following an eight-month investigation. Sierra Pacific Windows is a division of SPI.

The accident occurred September 17, 2020, at the company’s facility in Lincoln, Calif., when a pipeline on an air compressor exploded, Cal/OSHA officials said. According to investigators’ findings, an employee was setting up an air compressor when a pipeline on the compressor exploded, pieces of which struck two employees. One employee was injured; the other was killed.

Local media outlet The Sacramento Bee reported that the person fatally killed by the incident was a maintenance worker, who, along with another employee, was servicing the compressor. According to reporter Rosalio Ahumada, Lincoln Police Chief Doug Lee told the news outlet that when officers and firefighters responded to a reported explosion, they found one employee suffered minor injuries, after which they were transported to a hospital; the other “suffered significant injuries in the explosion and was pronounced dead at the scene.”

“Working on equipment attached to pressure vessels such as air compressors requires special precautions,” said Cal/OSHA deputy chief Debra Lee. “Employers must identify and evaluate potential hazards before assigning employees to perform work on this hazardous machinery and equipment.”

Cal/OSHA’s investigation resulted in nine violations— three of which were labeled as “serious accident-related.” Three other violations were labeled as “serious,” while others were tagged as “general in nature.” According to information provided by the division, serious accident-related violations are cited when “there is a realistic possibility that death or serious harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation.” Those cited in SPI’s case include failures to test discharge piping prior to operating the involved compressor, ensuring proper connection; failure to verify that a pressure-relieving safety device was installed in the line between the compressor and block valve; and failure to “ensure that all pressure piping for the compressor was designed and fit in accordance with good engineering practice.”

Serious violations were cited for the company’s “failure to ensure the energy within the pipeline system was controlled to prevent release during repair, and failure to ensure group lockout/tagout procedures were utilized and employees worked under supervision of a qualified person.”

Other violations related to welding performed by uncertified employees, failure to establish hazardous energy control procedures and “operating equipment under conditions of stress.”

Officials for Cal/OSHA say the division’s Pressure Vessel Unit is responsible for permitting and inspecting boilers and tanks, including air compressors. All employers operating within the state are required to have effective, written injury and illness prevention programs, as well as safety programs designed to identify, assess and control hazards in the workplace.

A spokesperson for SPI says the company was devasted by the tragic loss, but officials question Cal/OSHA’s determinations about its safety practices.

“The SPI Lincoln sawmill team was devastated that we lost a friend and a colleague in this accident,” says corporate affairs director Andrea Howell. “We fully cooperated with Cal/OSHA in the investigation of this tragedy. However, we are appealing as we don’t agree with Cal/OSHA’s findings. SPI is committed to the safety of our crew members.”
Headquartered in Anderson, Calif., Sierra Pacific Industries is a third generation, family-owned forest products provider that also produces millwork and windows. Howell says the company has implemented and continues to add measures to further enhance safety and training.

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