The deaths of at least three workers at a Packaging Corporation of America plant in DeRidder are the latest casualties for a company that's been repeatedly cited for safety violations at its facilities around the country — including at one plant that's seen five workers killed in the last decade.
Workers make corrugated container boards at PCA's DeRidder mill, where multiple people also suffered injuries after the Wednesday explosion. The facility produces about 874,000 tons of the product each year, according to the company, which acquired the mill from packaging company Boise in 2013.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Health and Safety Administration, PCA has not logged any violations at the Louisiana plant since the company acquired it. But PCA has been disciplined with fines for at least 154 violations over the last decade — some involving death or injury — at some of its other facilities around the U.S.
Tomahawk, Wisconsin: OSHA in 2013 found the company responsible for 30 safety violations after a worker was severely burned while trying to relight a steam boiler in the pulp and paper mill.
Two workers were killed at the same site in 2012, when "a steam and ash release triggered by fly ash" fatally injured them. Another three workers were killed and another injured in a 2008 explosion in the plant's storage area; in that case, a tank exploded while the employees were welding it.
Akron, Ohio: Workers were repeatedly exposed to amputation and other serious hazards at the company's Akron, Ohio, plant, leading OSHA to lodge a fines against the company eight violations — with three of them marked as repeat violations "for failing to protect workers from amputation and other serious hazards."
"What is happening at the plant demonstrates a company culture that does not value safety and puts employees at risk each day," said Howard Eberts, OSHA's area director in Cleveland, in a 2014 press release about the fines.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin: OSHA fined PCA in 2010 for "willful violations," meaning violations "committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health."
OSHA found the company committed six serious violations when it failed to "provide adequate personal protection equipment to workers responding to a caustic solution spill."
Chelmsford Massachusetts: Finding two repeat violations of workplace safety standards, OSHA fined the company after finding workers exposed to machinery hazards, including conveyor belts that lacked protective guarding and failures to adhere to proper procedures to shut down machines.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who was in Washington on Wednesday, told the Louisiana delegation the explosion appeared to have stemmed from a welding operation, where sparks ignited flammable gas emitting from deteriorating wood chips inside the tank, U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins told KATC TV-3.
That would make the incident similar to the 2008 CPA tank explosion in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, where three workers will killed and one injured.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigated the incident. They determined sparks from a welding operation atop a storage tank ignited flammable gas, which had been emitting from anaerobic bacteria inside the tank.
Feeding on the organic fiber waste inside the tank, "the bacteria likely produced hydrogen, a highly flammable gas," according to a safety bulletin released after the incident.
At the time of the incident, "PCA supervisors and workers were unaware of the risks of flammable gas production from anaerobic bacteria growth," according to the CSB. "PCA did not perform a hazard analysis or recognize fiber waste tanks as potentially hazardous."
Spokespeople with PCA did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday afternoon.