OSHA Faults Pharmaceutical Manufacturer in Massachusetts Plant’s Fatal Explosion

November 17, 2023

A Newburyport, Massachusetts pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturer and its parent company could have prevented an employee’s death from an explosion but lacked the required safeguards in a chemical manufacturing process, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation found.

OSHA’s investigation of the May 4 explosion at PolyCarbon Industries Inc./SEQENS SAS identified numerous deficiencies in the facility’s process safety management program for highly hazardous chemicals for the production and drying of a chemical product called Dekon 139 and for combustible dust hazards.

During the process, a pressure vessel exploded causing an employee’s fatal injuries.

OSHA has cited the firm for 11 violations and proposed $298,254 in penalties.

OSHA investigators said that f\among its alleged failures, the company did not determine the combustibility hazards of materials used in the production process, exposing employees to fire and explosion hazards from combustible dust, failed to include safe upper and lower temperature limits to prevent the decomposition of Dekon 139 and did not review a November 2022 compliance audit report with all affected personnel whose job tasks are relevant to the report findings.

SEQENS SAS operates 24 manufacturing plants and three research and development centers in North America, Europe and Asia. Formerly named PCI Synthesis, the Newburyport site is a chemical-processing facility engaged in the manufacturing, drying, packaging and testing of active pharmaceutical intermediates and custom synthesized chemicals

“The requirements of OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard are stringent and comprehensive because failure to comply fully can have a severe or catastrophic impact on employees that, in this case, cost a worker their life,” said OSHA’s Area Director Sarah Carle in Andover, Massachusetts. “Employers must rigorously, completely and continuously scrutinize, update and maintain each element of the process properly to identify and minimize hazards and protect workers’ safety and health.”

PCI/SEQENS SAS has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA or contest the findings.

On the day of the explosion in this coastal city north of Boston, fire crews battled heavy fire conditions for approximately one hour. Five employees were in the building at the time. One worker, identified as 62-year-old Jack O’Keefe, was found dead; the other four workers were treated at a local hospital and released.

The tragedy has raised questions about the future of the plant that has a history of health, safety and environmental problems. This explosion was the third at the plant since 2020. It moved to the Newburyport plant in 2005 from a facility in Leominster, where there had been two explosions.

Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon has questioned whether the plant should be allowed to reopen.

Photo: Crews on-scene at hazardous materials explosion in Newburyport, Mass. on May 4,2023. (Photo Courtesy Newburyport Fire)