Baxter fined for workplace safety violations

pharmafile | July 26, 2011 | News story | Manufacturing and Production Baxter International, pharma manufacturing news 

Baxter Healthcare has been fined $371,000 by the California state authorities for “deliberate and wilful” workplace safety violations at a facility in Los Angeles.

California’s Department of Industrial Relations (Cal/OSHA) issued 11 citations to the Baxter Bioscience facility in Atwater Village following an investigation into the death of one technician and serious injuries sustained by two others. Baxter has 15 days to appeal or pay the fine.

Atwater Village is the largest plasma fractionation facility in Baxter’s manufacturing network and is used to produce treatments for immune disorders, haemophilia, trauma and other life-threatening conditions.

33-year-old technician Henry Astilla died at the facility after entering a 6,000-litre tank that was being flushed with nitrogen as part of a protein extraction process. He collapsed through a lack of oxygen, and two colleagues ordered into the tank to retrieve him were also overcome. One remains in hospital, according to Cal/OSHA.

The agency maintains that Baxter had not tested the atmosphere in the tank prior to sending either Astilla or his two colleagues into it. The company’s confined space programme “failed to comply with all requirements, including appropriate atmospheric testing, protective equipment as well as rescue equipment and procedures”‘ it adds.

“The hazards of working in confined spaces are well documented and this is a classic example of the kind of injury that occurs when employers fail adequately to protect their employees,” said Cal/OSHA chief Ellen Widess.

“When confined space operations are not properly planned, it is unfortunately common for other employees to be injured or killed while attempting an impromptu rescue of the initial victim.”

The citations issued by Cal/OSHA over these incidents included one classified as general and 10 as serious, four of which were classified as wilful, each attracting fines of $70,000.

Wilful classifications are issued when an employer either commits a violation and is aware that it violates a safety law, or when an employer is aware that an unsafe or hazardous condition exists and makes no reasonable effort to eliminate the hazard.

Phil Taylor

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