Palmer Adobe Stock 370798234

OSHA Fines R.M. Palmer for Not Evacuating Employees Before Fatal Chocolate Factory Explosion

Oct. 6, 2023
The March explosion killed seven workers and sent 10 to the hospital; workers claim they complained of smelling gas beforehand.

The U.S. Dept. of Labor fined R.M. Palmer Co. $45,500 for failing to evacuate employees despite the fact that some reported smelling gas before the March 24 explosion that killed seven workers at the company’s West Reading, Pa., facility.

After an investigation, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined R.M. Palmer Co. did not remove workers from the manufacturing plant despite workers’ concerns about what turned out to be a natural gas leak, OSHA announced Oct. 5. The agency cited the company under its general duty clause for not evacuating workers.

OSHA also cited R.M. Palmer for not marking emergency exit signs clearly, using flexible cords improperly and for recordkeeping violations.

“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,” said OSHA Area Director Kevin Chambers. “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.”

Seven workers died and 10 more were hospitalized when an explosion tore apart the chocolate-making facility in downtown West Reading. After the tragedy, workers told investigators they had smelled gas in the days leading up to the explosion.

One worker claims she was saved when she fell through the floor into a vat of liquid chocolate. While the chocolate extinguished her arm, which had caught fire, she broke her collarbone and both heels in the fall. She was trapped for nine hours until she was rescued.

In July, the National Transportation Safety Board said it found cracks in a natural gas service tee retired from service in 2021, but not disconnected from the gas supply.

The company has 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.

(Photo at the top is only a representative photo of firefighting.)

About the Author

Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.

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