Federal investigation finds R.M. Palmer did not evacuate West Reading plant before gas leak explosion killed 7 workers

Chocolate manufacturer cited for improper response, other safety failures.

Update: In a statement released Friday, the company intends vigorously to contest OSHA’s citations, which it believes are legally and factually unsupported. Read more: R.M. Palmer responds to OSHA press release and Citations

Original post: The U.S. Department of Labor has found a well-known Pennsylvania candy maker failed to evacuate employees after some reported smelling gas before a March 2023 explosion that killed seven workers at the company’s West Reading facility.

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The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation and learned R.M. Palmer Co. did not remove workers from the manufacturing plant despite workers’ concerns about what OSHA later determined was a natural gas leak.

The agency cited the company under its general duty clause for not evacuating workers. OSHA also cited R.M. Palmer for not marking emergency exit signs clearly, using flexible cords improperly and for recordkeeping violations.

“Seven workers will never return home because the R.M. Palmer Co. did not evacuate the facility after being told of a suspected gas leak,” said OSHA Area Director Kevin T. Chambers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “Ensuring the safety of a workplace is expected of employers and required by law. The company could have prevented this horrific tragedy by following required safety procedures.” View the citations.

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Headquartered in West Reading, R.M. Palmer Co. has manufactured chocolate and other confections at its Pennsylvania facility since 1948. The company produces, packages and ships more than 500 types of products to retail locations throughout North America and employs about 850 employees.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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Berks Weekly
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