Two US Magnesium employees were injured Friday after an explosion during a routine maintenance operation.
At about 4 a.m., workers were putting a furnace back into operation after it had undergone routine maintenance, said Tom Tripp, technical services director at US Magnesium.
“They were just ready to start it up and there was an explosion,” he said. “The cause of the furnace [explosion] is still under investigation.”
Tripp said the explosion came from within the furnace itself, which raised the lid to the furnace and expelled gas and hot salt. Two employees close to the furnace at the time, a foreman and an hourly employee, were burned, Tripp said.
Bucky Whitehouse, director of Tooele County Emergency Management, said the two employees, reportedly aged 25 and 49, had second- and third-degree burns from the explosion of the furnace, which is used to bake magnesium chloride.
Whitehouse said medical technicians were also concerned about the employees’ airways, which had likely been damaged by inhaling superheated air. Both employees were taken to the University of Utah Burn Center, where they were still being cared for Monday.
“They felt their airways were compromised because of the hot air,” Whitehouse said. “It’s a very difficult situation and our thoughts are with them. We hope they recover quickly.”
Tripp said in addition to an investigation by the Utah Occupational Health and Safety Administration, U.S. Magnesium was conducting its own investigation to try to glean why a routine operation went wrong. Meanwhile, he said, the company was also concerned about the welfare of the injured employees.
“We’re hopeful these people are going to make a full recovery and pretty soon, but they’re going to be off for a while,” Tripp said. “This [operation] is something we do all the time, so we’re being careful in our analyses here. It was probably a chemically induced explosion, but how things got together is a question and we’re still working on that.”
The last industrial accident at US Magnesium was in December 2012 when an employee was working on a 30-foot-tall acid tank and suffered acid burns after a spark caused an explosion.
The force of the blast knocked the worker off of a raised bucket he had been in at the time. According to a report on the incident by Utah OSHA, US Magnesium was cited for nine “serious” violations for a total penalty of $45,000. US Magnesium has contested the findings.