OSHA Finds Dozens of Safety Violations in Fatal Kentucky Shipyard Towboat Explosion

The explosion took place as the towboat William E Strait, pictured here, was being repaired at the First Marine facility at Calvert City, KY. on January 19, 2018. Photo: NTSB

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited five contractors for safety and health violations after three employees were killed and two others critically injured following an explosion onboard a towboat in Calvert City, Kentucky.

The explosion ocurred last January as the towboat M/V William E Strait was being repaired at First Marine Dry Dock & Boat Repair.

The five companies collectively received 55 of violations with proposed penalties totaling $795,254.

OSHA cited ship repair contractor First Marine LLC; insulation contractor Thermal Control and Fabrication Inc.; temporary staffing companies Hutco Inc. and Day Help LLC (doing business as Wise Staffing Group); and blasting and painting contractor Joe Rupcke. First Marine LLC has been placed in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

First Marine, part of Western Rivers Boat Management, Inc., faces total penalties of over $523,800 alone over the violations. 

OSHA’s investigation determined that the explosion occurred when employees were cutting and welding in an atmosphere containing flammable gases. OSHA issued citations for failing to test confined spaces before entry; train workers on confined space entry operations; label chemical containers; exposing employees to asphyxiation, fire, explosion, chemical, trip, and drowning hazards; and allowing hot work/welding to be performed without testing for an explosive atmosphere.

“This tragedy could have been prevented if the employers had followed proper confined space procedures and implemented appropriate safety measures,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt A. Petermeyer.

The companies have 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

View the citations: