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Cause of fatal Evergreen Packaging mill fire released, citations issued
CANTON, N.C. (From news reports) -- A fire that cost the lives of two contractors during maintenance at Canton's Evergreen Packaging paper mill ended in hefty fines for two contractors.

On March 16, N.C. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health division hit Rimcor, Inc., out of Bastrop, Louisiana, with $5,775 in fines, while Industrial Services Group, Inc. DBA Universal Blastco, out of Sumter, South Carolina, was fined $112,000 for a series of alleged violations, including one that was "willful serious."

Within the notifications for citations, the cause of the fire, which occurred during a planned maintenance outage and killed two contractors from Rimcor, is explained. While those employees from Rimcor were working in one section of the mill's D2 down flow tank/tower, employees from Blastco were working in another section, using a heat gun to warm an epoxy vinyl ester resin, which was being used to install a fiberglass mat and has a flashpoint of just 79F. A container full of the resin was nearby.

"On Sept. 21, 2020, at approximately 5:15 a.m. the heat gun fell into a bucket of resin, resulting in a fire that killed employees of another contractor," Blastco's citation reads.

Regulations require that an open flame or sources of ignition not be used where they are in the possible path of vapor travel of a liquid with a flashpoint below 100F. The penalty for that violation is $63,000.

The second citation for Blastco, which featured nine different items and totaled $46,900, hit on a number of procedural violations in the permits required for working in a confined space. Those violations even go back two days before the fatal fire.

One of those violations was one of the exact same things Rimcor was cited for.

"Employer did not develop and implement procedures to coordinate entry operations when employees of more than one employer were working simultaneously as authorized entrants permit space, so that employees of one employer do not endanger the employees of any other employer," the citation reads.

Other citations for both contractors were non-serious and related to documentation of compliance with procedures.

No citations were issued to Evergreen Packaging.

"Civil penalties for OSH violations are included in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina in the General Statutes," NCDOL public information officer Dolores Quesenberry wrote in an email. "The maximum penalty for each willful violation is $70,000 and for each serious violation is $7,000. The General Statutes say that the Labor Department has to take into consideration various factors such as the gravity of the violation, the size of the business, the good faith of the employer, and the history of previous violations."

"The penalties are in no way designed to make up for loss of life," Quesenberry added. "By law, the civil money penalties collected by the N.C. Department of Labor are not the receipts of the department but rather must be remitted to the Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund, which then distributes the monies to the public school systems."

The companies have 15 working days from receipt of the citations to request an informal conference with the Labor Department, to file a notice of contest with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission of North Carolina (an independent board appointed by the governor to hear appeals of OSH citations), or to pay the penalties.

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