Cement plant cited for 63 violations

Posted Jan. 28, 2011, at 9:15 p.m.

THOMASTON, Maine — A local cement plant has been cited for 63 violations by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration for safety hazards at the plant.

Dragon Products Co. LLC’s Thomaston plant was inspected in late November and early December. Of the 63 violations, six “were issued for failure to abate previously cited hazardous conditions,” a U.S. Department of Labor press release stated.

The plant, which employs 230 people, according to its website, faces fines that have yet to be determined, a company spokesman said.

Inspectors noted that a roadway and a retention pond were not bermed, creating a hazard with an 8-foot dropoff, and that a rooftop of the plant’s burner floor was missing railings, which exposed workers to a 50-to-90-foot fall, according to the press release.

“That issue was fixed the very next day,” said Dragon’s Thomaston plant manager Ray DeGrass during a phone interview Friday.

In fact, DeGrass said, all but one of the 63 issues were resolved within “two to three days” of being cited.

The assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health described the lack of action by Dragon a flouting of responsibility.

But DeGrass said only one issue still remains.

“There is only one order that is not abated and as you and I speak, it’s being worked on,” he said Friday. “And that’s a condition that has been in existence since this plant has been in existence.”

The one remaining issue, according to DeGrass, involves an elevated area that does not have proper safeguards.

“They never once brought this issue up [before],” DeGrass said, even though the agency inspects the Thomaston plant twice each year.

This inspection was just different, DeGrass said.

“Even though there were more citations this inspection than in the past, it was because MSHA was doing its impact inspection rebounding from the West Virginia underground fatalities,” DeGrass said. “They really raised the bar, in our perspective. Safety is a good thing. We are not going to argue, no matter how high the bar gets. Safety of Dragon’s employees is our highest priority.”

In its press release, Mine Safety and Health Administration said the department stepped up enforcement last April after the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine, a coal mine in West Virginia.

Dragon is expecting to be fined for its violations.

“There will be fines. The fines are done at a later date. We don’t know what the fines are,” said DeGrass.

That won’t help the already hurting business.

DeGrass said that “2010 was worse than 2009 — our shipments were behind 2009. We still have our doors open and will start up in March and hopefully business will pick up this year.”

The only safety incident in recent years, DeGrass confirmed, was an explosion in late 2009 when ignited resin caused a blast that was heard 11 miles away. No one was injured.

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