Pennsylvania candy company contests OSHA citations following March 2023 natural gas explosion that killed seven

(UI) – The U.S. Department of Labor has found a well-known Pennsylvania candy maker failed to evacuate employees after some reported smelling gas before a March 2023 explosion that killed seven workers at the company's West Reading facility.

The department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation and learned R.M. Palmer Co. did not remove workers from the manufacturing plant despite workers' concerns about what OSHA later determined was a natural gas leak. The agency cited the company under its general duty clause for not evacuating workers. OSHA also cited R.M. Palmer for not marking emergency exit signs clearly, using flexible cords improperly and for recordkeeping violations.

"Seven workers will never return home because the R.M. Palmer Co. did not evacuate the facility after being told of a suspected gas leak," said OSHA Area Director Kevin T. Chambers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. "Ensuring the safety of a workplace is expected of employers and required by law. The company could have prevented this horrific tragedy by following required safety procedures." 

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

In a separate statement, R.M. Palmer Co. reiterated its cooperation in the investigation and the company’s intention to “vigorously contest OSHA's citations, which it believes are legally and factually unsupported.”

The company referred to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in July 2023, which highlighted the following findings:

  • After the accident, the NTSB investigation found that natural gas was leaking from a DuPont service tee under a public road less than 2 feet from underground piping that ran between the company’s headquarters building and the building that ultimately exploded. Analysis by the NTSB Materials Laboratory found a longitudinal crack in this DuPont service tee.
  • This leaking DuPont service tee was installed in 1982.
  • The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration added the type of service tee that was leaking to their list of pipe materials with "poor performance histories relative to brittle-like cracking" in 2007.
  • In 2021, UGI exposed and retired the service line that was connected to this DuPont service tee when they relocated the natural gas meter from the basement to the exterior of the building that ultimately exploded. After the service line was retired, however, the 1982 DuPont service tee remained connected to the natural gas system, pressurized at full system pressure.
  • As part of the meter relocation project, UGI installed a new service tee and a new service line. A small leak was also found in this newly installed service.

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