A saddened and somber work force returned to the job Thursday at Trojan Corp., just two days after a fiery explosion at the explosives manufacturing plant killed a fellow worker and injured two others.
"Today was terrible. There was just too much loneliness up here," one worker said.Trojan employee Arthur Dix, 38, San-ta-quin, was killed Tuesday when a building that hadn't been used for more than 18 months exploded and burst into flames while being prepared for demolition. Jerry Newitt, 41, Elk Ridge, and Larry Bradshaw, 57, Mapleton, received minor injuries.
The 108 Trojan employees consider themselves a pretty tight-knit bunch. For much of Thursday the 40-plus employees who returned for the day shift hugged and consoled each other and talked about feelings related to Dix's death.
"You just can't believe the compassion we have for each other up here," a worker said.
Dix, who worked at the plant for 15 years, leaves behind his wife, Karen, five children and a granddaughter. He will be buried Saturday at the Santaquin City Cemetery following funeral services.
After a preliminary investigation by the Utah Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the Spanish Fork Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, investigators believe the explosion was caused when friction, created while the three workers attempted to remove an empty filtering tank from the building, detonated explosive residue that had built up inside the walls and under the brick floor of the three-decade-old structure.
The three workers had wrapped a cable connected to a backhoe around the tank and were trying to tip it on its side so they could roll it outside the building when two quick blasts leveled the three-story building. When the explosion occurred, Dix was inside the building near the tank and Bradshaw was in a doorway relaying instructions to Newitt operating the backhoe. The blasts trapped Dix under the rubble and blew Bradshaw out the door. The second blast blew the tank over the top of the backhoe.
Plant workers and firefighters tried to rescue Dix from the burning rubble but were unsuccessful.
Once firefighters retrieved Dix's body the structure was allowed to burn. Later Tuesday the smoldering ashes ignited a nearby building and it burned to the ground.
Trojan officials were planning to remove equipment from the building and then apply for a permit to burn it down. The company burned down three other abandoned buildings at the plant over the past few years.
Since opening near the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon in 1940 Trojan has had a handful of accidental explosions, but Dix's death is only the second at the plant - the last being 32 years ago.
No employees were seriously injured in a December 1981 blast that leveled one building and left a huge hole in the ground. In February 1989 about five employees suffered minor injuries when a building blew up after explosive material that was being mixed overheated, detonating about 6,000 pounds of nearby explosives. Two months after that incident a company cleaning up debris from the explosion suffered injuries to his hands in another small explosion.
In 1987, an employee at Swenson Metal Salvage in Spanish Fork was killed and another critically injured when metal pipe that had come from Trojan exploded while the salvage workers were feeding it into a hydraulic shear.
Workers Tuesday not only talked about Dix and the accident, but many were dismayed at reports the plant is unsafe. While employees recognize the hazards associated with working with volatile explosive material, they say the industry is much safer than many. And most say safety has even been better since Ensign-Bickford Industries of Simsbury, Conn., purchased the facility in 1989.
"There's a lot of people who have worked here and stayed here for a long time, and if the plant was unsafe they wouldn't have spent 20 years or more up here," said Brian Anderson, president of United Steelworkers Local 4265. "The majority of people here are very content with what Ensign-Bickford has done since taking over the plant. They've improved safety 100 percent."
Employees are divided into safety teams that encourage each other to follow safety guidelines. Prior to Tuesday's accident, the company had gone 325 days without a lost-time accident. And the last accident was an employee who injured his back lifting.
"Safety is discussed by everyone on this site and it is something that everyone is involved in," said Rob Gardner, Trojan safety manager.
Following a routine inspection in 1992, OSHA fined the company $1,400 and cited the plant for two serious violations and 10 minor offenses.
Bob Dremans, OSHA compliance officer manager, said the agency conducts between 700 and 900 inspections annually, and more than 70 percent result in citations. The fact that none of Trojan's recent inspections were initiated by a complaint or an accident is a good indication that the company has a good safety record, he said.
Dremans said explosives plants have a lower accident rate than most industries because the explosives industry is monitored and regulated by dozens of state and federal agencies.
Industrial accident rates
Lost workday injuries
Industry per 100 workers
Explosives manufacturing 3.8
Meat products 10.0
Rubber and plastic products 6.2
Total non-durable product industry 4.5
Compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor