The San Leandro metal recycling company where a propane tank exploded last month, smashing into a car where a man was sitting, has been cited six times over the past decade for violations including failure to train employees on machinery and unlabeled emergency shut-off buttons that led to a worker losing several fingers, according to state records.
The Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, has launched an investigation into the March 28 incident at Alco Metal & Iron Co., 1091 Doolittle Drive, where the tank was being cut down for scrap. It exploded and flew across four lanes of Doolittle before hitting a car. A 61-year-old man, napping inside his Honda Civic before the start of his shift at a nearby business, narrowly escaped injury. The Civic, purchased just days before, was totaled. The man has since returned to work.
The flying propane tank wasn't the first time an Alco worker has been injured at one of its three Bay Area facilities over the past decade. In September 2012, a worker at the San Leandro facility lost several fingers in an alligator shear, a machine used to cut down metal, according to Cal/OSHA records. A subsequent investigation found that employees did not get appropriate training for the tool and emergency shut-offs and the equipment was not legibly marked.
Investigators also found that the alligator shear had no adequate means of quickly shutting off power in an emergency and lacked a shear guard to protect workers in case of an accident, both violations of Health & Safety codes.
In 2004, an Alco employee in Vallejo was seriously injured after being struck by a 9,000-pound steel beam that fell from a bridge crane, according to OSHA records. The worker suffered spinal fractures, an abdominal hernia, and crushing injuries to his abdomen, pelvis, back and lower right leg.
A subsequent investigation found that Alco did not train employees about the dangers of working with overhead cranes.
Greg Siggins, a spokesman for CAL/OSHA, declined to discuss the past violations and added that an investigation into the March incident could take up to six months to complete.
Alco did not return calls for comment. The company was founded in San Leandro in 1953 and employs more than 200 people, according to its website.
Another two incidents are under review, including a 2011 violation in which workers were found operating abrasive wheels without protection hoods, which guard employees' eyes and hands from flying fragments, and another in which investigators found machinery that lacked proper emergency shut-offs.
Alco has been fined at least $33,000 for violations over the past 10 years, but ended up paying a fraction of the amount after appealing each of the fines.