State completes investigation into Waikele bunker explosion

Published: Sep. 30, 2011 at 9:21 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 30, 2011 at 10:07 PM HST
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Honolulu firefighters at the scene of the explosion on April 8th
Honolulu firefighters at the scene of the explosion on April 8th

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The State has completed its investigation into the Waikele bunker explosion that killed five employees of Donaldson Enterprises, Inc.

The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations' (DLIR) Hawai'i Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH) after completing the investigation proposed penalties in the amount of $415,200.

The state says Donaldson Enterprises will have an opportunity to contest the penalties.

The explosion which happened April 8, 2011, as employees of Donaldson Enterprises, Inc. were taking apart commercial grade cake-style fireworks within Bunker A-21 at the Waikele Self Storage.

"We have concluded that there were so many unsafe working conditions and work practices that could have caused the explosion. To continue efforts to find a single cause would neither be productive nor serve our mission of assuring safe and healthful working conditions for every working person in the State," said HIOSH Administrator Jennifer Shishido." "At the end of our investigation, we identified eleven potential causes for the explosion, each of which carries a penalty for violating health and safety laws."

Citations are being issued to Donaldson Enterprises, Inc. for:

1. Failure to conduct a hazard assessment on the dangers of disassembling pyrotechnic materials which may have become more shock, heat, and friction sensitive due to unknown compounds within the pyrotechnic formulation, and uncontrolled environmental conditions within the bunker such as excessive heat and humidity.

2. Failure to use bonding, grounding, and anti-static materials to control the potential of ignition by static electricity.

3. Failure to ensure that supervisors properly reinforced the training of employees in the danger of using metal tools, work practices that may create friction, and other sources of ignition while working with pyrotechnic contents that are sensitive to heat, shock, and friction.

4. Failure to provide at least two exit routes were not available to permit prompt evacuation of employees during an emergency.

5. Failure to store flammable liquids away from exits or areas normally used for the safe egress of people.

6. Failure to separate the work involving pyrotechnic materials from other explosives within the bunker.

7. Failure to provide non-ferrous, non-sparking tools while working with explosive pyrotechnic materials.

8. Failure to control the presence of combustible materials such as empty packing materials and rubbish in an area where pyrotechnic materials were being separated and maintained.

9. Failure to prohibit spark producing devices, i.e. employees' cars, within 50 feet of the bunker entrance where pyrotechnic materials were being disassembled and maintained.

10. Failure to erect appropriate warning signs on access roads leading to the bunker where pyrotechnic materials were present and being disassembled.

11. Failure to conduct a hazard assessment to determine the appropriate personal protective equipment to be worn by employees while performing work with explosive pyrotechnic materials.

12. Failure to require employees to don appropriate personal protective equipment

Although HIOSH's investigation is complete, other agencies--including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Health Response Team--are awaiting additional information such as: laboratory tests on the exact composition and the sensitivity to ignition of the pyrotechnic materials present in the bunker at the time of the incident; and metallurgical testing of the various tools used in the operation such as PVC cutters, lopping shears, scissors and metal wire cutters.

"While our thoughts remain with the families of the five men lost in this tragedy, we urge all employers who work with or may work with pyrotechnic materials to take appropriate actions to prevent any similar incident," said DLIR Director Dwight Takamine.

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