Washington state safety regulators have fined aircraft cabin supplier Zodiac $1.3 million, citing workplace safety and health violations that led to an explosion last July in a carbon fiber curing oven. Seventeen workers were injured at the production plant north of Spokane.

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A unit of aircraft cabin supplier Zodiac has been fined $1.3 million for workplace safety and health violations following an explosion at its carbon fiber production plant north of Spokane, state regulators said Tuesday.

Seventeen workers were injured in the curing oven explosion last July at the Newport, Wash., facility, which employs more than 100.

After a nearly six-month investigation, the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) found the company used defective equipment and didn’t ensure safe procedures were used when processing flammable materials in the oven.

“Had this explosion occurred during the day when many more workers were present, there could have been many more injuries and possibly even deaths,” said Anne Soiza, L&I assistant director of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, in a statement. “As it is, 17 people were injured and their lives put at risk from an incident that was highly predictable given the operating conditions.”

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L&I cited Zodiac for 17 willful violations, each with the maximum penalty of $70,000, for knowingly and willfully exposing workers to the risk of serious injuries.

Because of the high potential for death or permanent serious harm, L&I bumped up the fine by $7,000 for each of a further 18 serious violations, such as having employees enter the 90-foot industrial curing oven to perform maintenance without adequate safety precautions.

Due to the danger of an explosion, specific safety interlock controls and other safety procedures were required before the highly flammable resins that are part of composites manufacturing were used in the 90-foot drying oven, L&I said in a statement.

Those controls were not in place, despite the fact that Zodiac had advice from its contracted consulting engineer detailing the steps needed to ensure safe operation prior to using the flammable uncured resins, L&I said.

The investigation found that flammable resins had been run through the oven a number of times prior to the explosion. L&I also discovered that 11 days before the incident, the plant was evacuated due to flammable vapors that created a risk of explosion in the same operation.

The Newport plant was closed for weeks after the accident and resumed operations in phases.

Due to the willful violations, L&I has classified the Zodiac unit based in Newport as “a severe violator,” which means it will be subject to follow-up inspections.

The employer has 15 days to appeal. The fine paid as a result of the citations will be placed in the state’s workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund.

Mike Haffey, a Zodiac vice president of business development with Boeing, said he couldn’t comment on the L&I fine and that only the Paris office would be authorized to do so. Company headquarters in Paris was closed at press time.

Supply troubles

The Newport plant makes structural composites and assemblies, adhesives, panels with honeycomb core, and various plastics and glass-fiber materials, all used in the manufacture of aircraft-cabin interiors.

The French parent company, Zodiac Aerospace — which operates other aircraft cabin interiors plants in Bellingham, Everett and Marysville — has run into serious production issues over the past two years.

It has struggled to maintain the timely supply of seats and lavatories to both Airbus and Boeing, leading to some delays in airplane deliveries.

At a Paris press conference Tuesday announcing Airbus’s 2015 sales and delivery figures, chief executive Fabrice Brégier was openly critical of the supplier.

“We suffered a lot with Zodiac,” said Brégier, “I was extremely patient with Zodiac last year because I believed they had taken on board our challenges and our improvement plans. But it took extremely long to put in place. They were in denial.”

“When the top management of a company is in denial this is a recipe for failure,” he added.

Brégier said that, as a “wake-up call,” he de-selected Zodiac from the new Airbus A330neo program so that it can focus on fixing its problems with the current order book.

“The issues with Zodiac are not yet fixed,” Brégier said. “There are clear action plans. We will see in the coming months.”