Investigators: Deadly explosion at East Side paint factory caused by equipment malfunction

Investigators have concluded that malfunctioning equipment caused an April explosion and fire at the Yenkin-Majestic Paint and OPC Polymers Corp. factory on the Near East Side that left one man dead, injured several others and caused more than $1 million in property damage.

The official determination of the cause of the April 8 blast and fire, which heavily damaged the facility in the 1900 lock of Leonard Avenue, was reached by the Columbus Division of Fire, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Health Investigation Board and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

“The investigation shows the explosion and resulting fire was accidental…,” according to a press release from the Columbus Division of Fire. “In this instance, there is no evidence of any criminal or intentional act.”

More: Chemical Safety Board gives update in investigation of fatal Columbus paint factory explosion

More: Paint company where explosion and fire killed one, injured 8 has history of safety violations

Specifically, investigators determined an agitator that mixed products in a 3,000 gallon kettle stopped working, causing a chemical reaction that eventually released a highly flammable gas inside the factory. The fumes then ignited, resulting in the massive explosion that could be seen miles away and fire.

“The time lapse between the gasket leak and the explosion was less than two minutes. In that time, most of the employees were able to make their way out of the building,” the Division of Fire reported.

Three workers did not make it out, however. One of those individuals, Wendell Light, 44, of Heath, was found under some rubble of the collapsed building and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Two others were rescued that night by emergency responders.

The U.S. Chemical Safety board earlier reported that the explosion and fire caused at least $1 million in property damage, five hospitalizations and four non-serious injuries. About 21 of the company’s 180 employees were at the facility at the time of the explosion.

In early October, OSHA announced that it had cited Yenkin-Majestic for two willful and 33 serious safety violations, proposed $709,960 in penalties and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Acting OSHA Regional Administrator William Donovan in Chicago said in a released statement at the time that the company “could have prevented this terrible tragedy if they had followed industry standards and removed a compromised kettle from service.

“Knowing that this company altered equipment, failed to use a qualified fabricator and returned equipment to service aware that it did not meet safety standards is unacceptable.”

Yenkin-Majestic is contesting the OSHA citations and will appear before an independent OSHA commission at a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing, according to Rhonda Burke, a spokeswoman for the agency, told The Dispatch Tuesday in an email. The process can take several months to a year to complete, she added.

A message seeking comment was left with Yenkin-Majestic on Tuesday afternoon. The company, founded in Columbus in 1920, manufactures paint resins and coatings.

According to a Dispatch review of OSHA records, safety inspections at Yenkin-Majestic’s Leonard Avenue operations in 2011, 2012 and 2015 resulted in serious violations and fines. The most serious violations occurred during a 2012 inspection, with 15 of 16 violations being deemed serious by OSHA. The inspection resulted in a $138,600 penalty against the company, which appears to have been settled for about $76,000.

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