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April 30. 2012 10:00PM

Pellet maker faults OSHA

New England Wood Pellet LLC of Jaffrey will meet Wednesday with U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to discuss proposed fines totaling $147,000 related to an Oct. 20, 2011, fire and explosion at the plant.

The fire started in the pellet mill, was transported through several conveying systems to a pellet cooler and then to a dust collector, and caused several other flash fires, OSHA said in a news release Friday.

OSHA issued two repeat citations with $140,000 in fines for failing to provide a workplace free of recognized fire and explosion hazards, and for using unapproved electrical equipment to vacuum combustible dust. OSHA said it cited New England Wood Pellet for similar violations in July 2008.

On Monday, New England Wood Pellet faulted OSHA's comments.

“The company finds the recent public comments of OSHA's Area Director for New Hampshire about New England Wood Pellet to be one-sided and unfairly dismissive of the company's past and ongoing efforts to improve worker safety at its Jaffrey facility,” the company said in a statement. “Since 2008, New England Wood Pellet has worked cooperatively with her office, retained engineers and consultants, and spent over $2 million on various improvements to enhance worker safety at its Jaffrey facility.”

In a press release last week, OSHA N.H. Area Director Rosemarie Ohar said, “While it is fortunate that no one was killed in this conflagration, there is no excuse for the employer's failure to effectively minimize and address clearly recognized hazards that could kill or disable workers in a catastrophic incident.”

Separately, OSHA's Concord office opened a new inspection on Friday as a result of the latest fire last week, U.S. Department of Labor regional spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said.

Ohar said Monday, “OSHA looks forward to working with New England Wood Pellet in the future to improve safety and health at the facility.”

In its 28-page citation, OSHA also cited the wood pellet plant for buildup of combustible dust on equipment and surfaces and proposed a $7,000 fine.

“We're looking forward to presenting our side, and again, we've had a cooperative relationship,” New England Wood Pellet Chief Operating Officer Mark R. Wilson said.

He said a fire Friday morning at 2 a.m. was followed by the OSHA citation regarding the October 2011 fire. He said there were no injuries and minimal property damage in that fire.

But he said the firm spent $2.5 million over nine months for improvements in electrical systems, safety platforms and guards and hazardous dust fire and explosion protection.

“We have a cooperative relationship with the New Hampshire OSHA office,” Wilson said. Looking ahead to the Wednesday meeting, he said, “This is the first time we'll get to share with them what we think since this citation was issued. We'll discuss the content of the citation and the amount of the penalties, and hopefully we can come to agreement there and continue to work together to make improvements in our plants, which we plan on doing anyway.”

On the Net: www.pelletheat.com. Write to dpaiste@unionleader.com.



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