R.M. Palmer fined US$44,000 for lack of evacuation before blast killed seven

Article by Kerry Hebden

R.M. PALMER, the owner of a chocolate factory which exploded in March killing seven people, has been fined more than US$44,000 by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for failing to evacuate staff before the incident occurred. 

According to OSHA, the fatal blast, which levelled one building and heavily damaged another, occurred due to a gas leak. However, the well-known Pennsylvania-based candy maker did not remove workers from its West Reading facility despite their concerns that they could smell gas before the explosion. 

Along with a citation for not evacuating workers, OSHA also cited R.M. Palmer for using flexible cords improperly, recordkeeping violations, and for not marking emergency exit signs clearly. It said on or about 24 March 2023, the door leading from the hot room in the basement of building 1 to Cherry Street was not marked with a sign identifying it as an exit. “The nearest signed exit was in excess of 100 feet from the room, requiring employees to pass by where the hazardous materials were stored,” OSHA said in its report. For this violation, the firm’s proposed penalty was US$8,929.

OSHA area director Kevin T Chambers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said: “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. 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 produces, packages, and ships more than 500 types of unique confectionary products to retail locations throughout North America and employs around 850 employees. It has been manufacturing chocolate and other sweets at its Pennsylvania facility since 1948. 

OSHA said Palmer had 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.  

AP News reports that Palmer has denied it violated any workplace safety standards and said it would contest the OSHA citations, as they are “legally and factually unsupported”. 

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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