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Agilent agrees to fine in April blast

  • 04/27/2011: A1:

    PC: Santa Rosa firefighters take an injured Agilent employee to a waiting ambulance after a flash explosion rocked Building 1 on the Agilent Technologies campus in Santa Rosa, California on Tuesday, April 26, 2011. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Agilent Technologies has agreed to pay $40,000 in fines to settle what state regulators say were safety lapses that contributed to the chemical explosion that seriously injured a worker at the company's Fountaingrove campus in April.

Agilent knew there were problems with the piece of high-tech machinery that exploded because similar incidents occurred two times in 2010 and the company failed to fix the problem, according to the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Patrick Colbus, 46, suffered major burns when the machine he was working on exploded, shooting glass and several hazardous substances into his face and upper torso.

Explosion At Agilent In Santa Rosa

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The Santa Rosa resident and 2005 graduate of Sonoma State University was cleaning a molecular beam epitaxy machine, which produces thin coatings on integrated circuits. Cal-OSHA referred to it as a "reactor."

Colbus was not wearing the required protective equipment and clothing at the time of the explosion, which released hazardous substances including phosphorous, arsenic and lead, according to Cal-OSHA.

More than 20 workers underwent decontamination after complaining of respiratory problems after the flash, which spewed smoke with a chemical odor.

"Agilent recognizes the serious of the accident that occurred in April, so Cal-OSHA's decision to issue citations with fines was not unexpected," Agilent spokesman Jeff Weber said.

Agilent's customers use its test and measurement equipment to manufacture an array of communications devices. Technology developed in Santa Rosa is used by companies that manufacture half of the world's cell phones.

No one was injured in the two previous explosions, which were much smaller than the incident in April, Weber said.

Following the prior incidents, the company formed a team to try to understand what was causing the flare-ups and "refine" maintenance procedures for the machines, Weber said. But those efforts fell short.


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