Magnesium plant has had safety problems

Published: May. 2, 2018 at 7:15 PM EDT
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"I have seen small fires, big fires, I've seen it all there," said a former Meridian Magnesium Products employee.

A massive explosion and fire at a Meridian Magnesium Products plant in Eaton Rapids.

Two people were injured but later released from the hospital.

The fire is out, but neighbors said this isn't the first time that factory has had problems.

News 10's Alani Letang dug into their past through past state records.

We found the plant has had 7 violations from 2014 to 2016, according to Michigan's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. Several past and current employees told us they are not surprised the fire happened.

Letang spoke to a former employee who didn't want to be identified. He said he started working there in 2015 but left three months ago because he said it was too dangerous.

"I would've assumed it would've blown up three years ago," the former employee said.

This former employee worked as a die-casting machine operator at the plant. He told us fires were a regular occurrence because workers didn't get enough training.

"They put whoever and whenever they can on a machine, those people don't know what's going on. Supervisor's not around so sometimes something goes wrong and there is nobody to ask for help," said former employee.

But there is somebody, he said, who will push you to work when accidents happen.

"Every time there was a fire they told you to get back to work. It wasn't about your health or if you were okay, it was all about the parts, and how much you can produce and how fast you can produce them," the former employee said.

In 2014 OSHA found that the plant failed to service and maintain machines and equipment, it's something that could've harmed employees.

The former employee told Letang, the management team would assure him there was nothing to worry about.

He said, "they tell us that it's nothing, there's no issue, OSHA has approved everything that is going on in there."

The past employee said the surroundings weren't safe either. In 2016 OSHA records indicate the plant's machines weren't properly locked and tilted to avoid injury.

Both past and current employees told us the plant wasn't clean, which created another safety issue.

"There's sud on the walls, on the machine, on the floor, the floors are slippery from magnesium exploding and being on the floor. It's like a skating rink," the former employee said.

The plant's human resource manager would not address those issues except to say safety is a primary concern. We are told the first and second shifts have been called back to work.

The company is doing a damage estimate to see when it can resume normal operations.

Management will answer employee questions at a meeting Thursday morning.

General Motors told us the fire will not have any immediate impact on the Delta Township and Grand River plants. We'll let you know if that changes.

There are several reasons magnesium is used to make car parts.

For one, it has the best "strength-to-weight" ratio of any commonly used metal. Magnesium is less likely to corrode than other metals, it's also extremely stable and resistant to dents.

The downside is magnesium is highly flammable and it reacts violently with water when it's burning.

That makes it tough to put out a magnesium fire.

Scientists said the best way to combat a magnesium fire is to use a special type of fire extinguisher or cover it with sand.

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