Atalco plant worker: ‘It is the most unsafe place I have ever worked in my life’

“I’ve worked in some unsafe places, and I’ve worked in some safe places, and by far, this is probably the most unsafe place I have ever worked in my life.” – plant worker

GRAMERCY – Multiple workers were burned in an incident at the Atalco alumina plant in Gramercy earlier this month. One worker says safety is a consistent issue.

The incident happened at the Atalco plant on Sunday, January 7, around 3:43 p.m. It lasted about two minutes, according to the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

The workers were reportedly burned by pH caustic solution, which can cause severe chemical burns when someone touches it.

One plant worker, who will remain anonymous, tells UWK that failed procedures led to the incident.

“At most plants, they follow OSHA, but over here, it’s EMSHA. They’re similar but what they do out here is they put barricade tape up around caustic on the ground and walk past it. They don’t care,” he said. “To me, that’s mind-blowing. Are you not caring about people getting hurt? We have people who are risking their lives. That should be something that should be brought up to attention, not just thrown under the rug.”

He said the boiling chemicals likely injured the workers severely.

“What happened with those guys is they were working on a valve, and they went to pull the valve, the line wasn’t locked out, and it blew hot boiling caustic on them at high pressure,” the worker explained. “These guys are going to be disfigured for the rest of their lives.”

“It was the plant’s fault. It was one of the operator’s fault,” he continued. “They didn’t lock out the stuff right. Lock out, tag out is something that you learn the day you start working in plants. That is any plant you work in.”

According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), lockout/tagout procedures are designed to ensure all energy sources are isolated before electrical or mechanical work is performed.

Lockout/tagout protects miners from the dangers of uncontrolled, unplanned release of energy or toxic materials.

Lockout/tagout procedures

  1. Stop the equipment, disconnect power, and lock the switch.
  2. Attach your identifying tag.
  3. With miners in the clear, start the equipment or test for power.

Over 100 safety citations issued

According to a report from MSHA, the Atalco plant was cited for 106 Significant & Substantial (S&S) violations from May 1, 2022, through April 30, 2023. An S&S violation is reasonably likely to lead to a serious injury or illness, according to MSHA. 

In its review, MSHA identified a pattern of S&S violations related to caustic spills and leaks that put miners at risk of injury. Several S&S violations resulted from inspections MSHA initiated after receiving complaints about hazardous conditions at the facility.

The source recalls several substandard incidents while at Atalco. “The biggest problem we have out there is safety,” the plant worker said. “I’ve worked in some unsafe places, and I’ve worked in some safe places, and by far, this is probably the most unsafe place I have ever worked in my life. I tell people the biggest issue is they don’t care about you. They just want the job done. And that’s not how it should be. Even when guys got hurt, they told us, ‘Hey, don’t talk to the media. Don’t do anything.’ I thought that was a huge red flag.”

He recalls a few instances when people were sprayed with the caustic chemicals at the plant, they were told to “rinse off” and then go home. He claimed he had been sprayed with caustic three times in one week.

After working at various plants for at least 12 years, the plant worker said his experiences at Atalco have changed his outlook.

“The biggest problem in our generation is everybody cares about money. This is what makes the world go round,” he said. “Yeah, you don’t have to have a college degree. I made a lot of money in my lifetime. It’s not always about the money at the end of the day, man. It’s about going home to your family.”

“Even if you don’t have a family, even if you don’t have kids, someone still cares about you, and money is not over life,” he continued. “There’s more to life than just money. It’s very dangerous what we do at these plants, and there’s a reason why we don’t always tell our ol’ ladies and our friends, what we experience because it would scare a lot of people. It is not for the faint of heart.”

UWK has reached out to Atalco Alumina but have but have not gotten a response at the time of this report.

Download the Unfiltered with Kiran app from the Apple App Store and Google Play to stay updated on the latest news across the Capital area.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Interested in advertising with us?

We’d love to have you on the team! Drop us a line and we’ll be happy to follow up. 


Let's Connect

Follow along on your favorite social media platform and get the latest updates directly in your feed!

Got a tip on a story?

Submit a Tip

Have a tip on a story? Send it directly to our team using the form below!