(Memphis) “That’s the first thing I thought was somebody died at the plant,” former Pollution Control Industries employee Victor Steward said.
Last week’s fire at Pollution Control Industries was déjà vu for Stewart.
As late as 2009, he was working in the same building that caught fire, the Tower.
He was standing arm distance from another worker who was burned during a chemical fire at the plant in 2001.
“I tried to get to him but in front of me blew up, so I had to step back,” Stewart said.
The other worker died of his injuries five days later.
Stewart, who also served as Union President, said even back then, safety was a problem. He said the focus was on quotas.
“You have to get your numbers. Like if you suppose to run 300 drums a shift, they want you to run the drums even with oil on the floor. We will get that later. I seen lines busted on machine and they would tape it with duct tape and keep running,” said Stewart.
“When the big bosses come to town, that’s when we really go to clean the place up or when OSHA was coming,” he said.
Other former workers we talked to say they also pushed the company to improve ventilation and give workers proper attire.
We talked to Tridebe officials who took over PCI in 2008.
They say the company does stress safety and compliance and is continuously making improvements including worker training.
They say their violations are not excessive when compared to industry standards.
Former workers, who claim the focus has been on the bottom line, know where it should be.
“Safety. A man in the hospital today. It should be safety,” said Stewart.
Plant officials say they are not sure when the plant will be up and running at full speed.
OSHA’s investigation into the explosion will take about six to eight weeks.