OSHA cites contractors after explosion on Kentucky towboat - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

OSHA cites contractors after explosion on Kentucky towboat

The “William E. Strait” sank 20 feet into the Mississippi River in December 2015. (Source: WMC-TV) The “William E. Strait” sank 20 feet into the Mississippi River in December 2015. (Source: WMC-TV)
Photo of the explosion site. (Source: Kentucky State Police) Photo of the explosion site. (Source: Kentucky State Police)
(Source: Greg Burd) (Source: Greg Burd)
(Source: Nathan Ellgren/KFVS) (Source: Nathan Ellgren/KFVS)
(Source: Nathan Ellgren/KFVS) (Source: Nathan Ellgren/KFVS)
CALVERT CITY, KY (KFVS) -

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited five contractors after a Calvert City, Kentucky deadly towboat explosion on January 20.

OHSA cited the contractors for safety and health violations after three employees were fatally injured. The five companies collectively received 55 of violations with proposed penalties totaling $795,254.

According to a news release the from the Dept. of Labor, OSHA cited ship repair contractor First Marine LLC; insulation contractor Thermal Control and Fabrication Inc.; temporary staffing companies Hutco Inc. and Day Help LLC (doing business as Wise Staffing Group); and blasting and painting contractor Joe Rupcke. First Marine LLC has been placed in the agency's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

OSHA's investigation determined that the explosion occurred when employees were cutting and welding in an atmosphere containing flammable gases.

The agency issued citations for failing to test confined spaces before entry; train workers on confined space entry operations; label chemical containers; exposing employees to asphyxiation, fire, explosion, chemical, trip, and drowning hazards; and allowing hot work/welding to be performed without testing for an explosive atmosphere.

In response, First Marine Representative Jason Strait issued this statement on July 24, 2018:

We have fully cooperated with the OSHA investigation, which is standard procedure after this type of incident. At the same time OSHA was performing its investigation, we have been looking at all our safety procedures and practices. In the coming weeks we will continue working with OSHA. We understand that everyone wants answers, and we intend to be transparent in all things, as we have been during the OSHA investigation.

Workplace safety is the first priority in all our operations. We already have implemented safety enhancements as the result of what we have learned from our own investigation. As a company and as individuals, we take our safety responsibilities very seriously, and we have re-dedicated ourselves to maintaining a safe workplace. Other than the January 19, 2018 incident, First Marine only had one lost time incident in the prior 36 months, which shows our safety culture. We will continue to place an emphasis on safety as we always have in the past.

We remain saddened over the loss of lives and injuries that occurred as a result of this incident and we sympathize with all of the families. We are a family-owned business and the men and women who work for our company are more than just employees, they are our family.

"This tragedy could have been prevented if the employers had followed proper confined space procedures and implemented appropriate safety measures," said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt A. Petermeyer.  

The companies have 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA's investigation is standard procedure.

Western Rivers Boat Management said in a statement in January that they were fully cooperating with the investigation.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all who have lost loved ones, for those injured who are recovering with their families and to all of our employees involved. In particular, we send our condolences to the families of First Marine’s Tim Wright. Tim was a very special man whom we loved and respected very much. We also wish a speedy recovery to Billy Koonce and look forward to the day when he can return to work.

"At the time of the incident, workers employed by First Marine, as well as workers employed by contractors, Hutco, Inc., Thermal Control, and Rupke Blasting and Painting Co, were continuing their work to rebuild the M/V WILLIAM E STRAIT, a significant marine construction project that has been ongoing in various stages. The vessel partially sank when it was struck by another vessel on the Mississippi River near Memphis in December 2015, an incident that was not connected to the event that occurred last week.

"OSHA has arrived in Calvert City to conduct an investigation, which is standard procedure after this type of incident. We are fully cooperating with that investigation. We will use its findings, along with the results of our own investigation, to implement any changes needed to improve workplace safety – the first priority in all our operations."

The explosion was on the Tennessee River on Hollinger Road in Calvert City.

According to Kentucky State Police, at 9:17 a.m., the Marshall County Dispatch received a call reporting an explosion on a towboat dry-docked on Hollinger Road.

KSP Troopers say the towboat named the William E. Strait was being worked on at the time.

They say the preliminary investigation showed an explosion resulted in a flash fire and then a small fire inside the towboat.

Three people were pronounced dead at the scene and numerous other people were injured.

Fifty-two-year-old Timothy L. Wright, of Calvert City, Ky.; 56-year-old Jerome A. Smith, of Thibodaux, La.; and 41-year-old Quentin J. Stewart of Opelousas, La. were pronounced dead at the scene by the Marshall County coroner.

According to KSP, autopsies on Saturday, Jan. 20 confirmed the victims died from injuries received after the explosion. 

According to our sister station, WMC Action News 5, the vessel was involved in another incident in 2015.

The towboat was traveling on the Mississippi River just south of the I-55 bridge in Memphis, Tennessee, when it hit another vessel.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the William E. Strait sank 20 feet into the water. Nobody was injured in the crash.

According to KSP, 21-year-old Javier Fuenes reportedly had "minor injuries," 23-year-old Wilson Madrid had "minor injuries," James Lang had "serious injuries" and Tyler Wedeking had "serious injuries." They were taken by ambulance to area hospitals.

Jimmy Lang and Billy Counts were taken by helicopter to a Nashville hospital and all were listed as being in stable condition in the burn unit on Monday.

Tyler Wedeking was taken to a hospital in Paducah.

He has been released from the hospital and suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to his face.

According to KSP, the property the explosion happened on is owned by First Marine. The towboat is owned by Smithland Towing. They say the workers on the site of the explosion were from First Marine, Four Rivers Marine Coating, Hutco and Thermal Control.

The preliminary investigation showed a total of 41 people were on site, but not all of them were on the towboat at the time of the explosion.

KSP Troopers say there is no early indication of foul play being involved in the explosion.

The U.S. Coast Guard was also on scene and an OSHA and state police have been assigned to investigate. 

Calvert City Fire Department, Gilbertsville Fire Department, East Marshall Fire Department and Palma-Briensburg Fire Department responded, along with Marshall County Rescue Squad, Marshall County Office of Emergency Management, Marshall County Sheriff's Office, Calvert City Police Department, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, Marshall County Ambulance, Livingston County Ambulance, Murray-Calloway County Ambulance, Mercy Ambulance and Air Evac.

It happened near the First Marine LLC Dry Dock Boat and Barge Repair.

People were asked to avoid the industrial area of town for the foreseeable future as multiple agencies are responding.

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