The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Coomes Oil and Supply Inc. doing business as the 5th Wheel BP gas station in St. Augustine, and Florida Rock and Tank Lines Inc. for safety hazards after an employee of the latter company was burned in an explosion at the station in August.
The explosion sent a ball of fire 75 feet into the air and the resulting fire took dozens of firefighters three hours to put out.
David Hunt Cowles, 61, received burns to his arms as he crawled away from the blast. Cowles spent weeks at the burn unit at Shands Medical Center in Gainesville.
The Florida Rock and Tank Lines delivery driver was refilling an above-ground gasoline storage tank that had a broken gauge. The tank overflowed, and the combination of vapors and heat from the running delivery truck caused an explosion. OSHA's inspection found that the gas station and Florida Rock and Tank Lines decided to refill the storage tank even though the liquid level gauging system was inoperable.
Florida Rock and Tank Lines has been cited for one willful violation with a proposed penalty of $70,000 for failing to provide a means for the delivery driver to determine if the storage tank had enough capacity for additional gasoline. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
Coomes Oil and Supply has been cited for one serious violation with a proposed penalty of $7,000 for failing to provide employees and delivery drivers a means to determine the gasoline levels in the above-ground storage tank. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
"Despite the fact that safety gauges and devices were inoperable, the employers chose to proceed with the operation and risk the lives of their employees," said Brian Sturtecky, OSHA's area director in Jacksonville. "Unfortunately for the injured employee, the two companies involved in this explosion learned a safety lesson by means of a terrible incident instead of taking the steps they should have to protect their workers in the first place."
Jacksonville-based Florida Rock and Tank Lines transports petroleum and other liquid and dry bulk commodities throughout the Southeast. Coomes Oil and Supply owned and operated 5th Wheel BP, a full-service gas station on State Road 16 that closed following the explosion.
The companies have 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.