Houston News : Former employee speaks out about dangers at NW Houston plant

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A view of the front office of Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, located at 4525 Gessner Rd., where an explosion occurred Friday, January 24, 2020 in Houston.

A view of the front office of Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, located at 4525 Gessner Rd., where an explosion occurred Friday, January 24, 2020 in Houston.

Photo: Melissa Phillip, Staff Photographer / Houston Chronicle

Photo: Melissa Phillip, Staff Photographer / Houston Chronicle

A view of the front office of Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, located at 4525 Gessner Rd., where an explosion occurred Friday, January 24, 2020 in Houston.

A view of the front office of Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, located at 4525 Gessner Rd., where an explosion occurred Friday, January 24, 2020 in Houston.

Photo: Melissa Phillip, Staff Photographer / Houston Chronicle

Former employee speaks out about dangers at NW Houston plant

When Thomas Gonzales heard his former workplace had burst into a fiery explosion, killing two and damaging over 200 homes, he wasn’t surprised.

“That place is very dangerous,” said Gonzales, who worked Watson Grinding and Manufacturing for a year and filed a formal safety complaint against the company with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2006.

In the complaint, Gonzales described equipment not securely fastened to the floor and employees working with grinders and tungsten carbide spray without dust masks or gloves. Tungsten carbide can cause a skin allergy, lung allergy or lung scarring, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

OSHA responded to Gonzales by recommending citations for several of his complaints, according to a letter from the agency included in a worker compensation suit he filed in 2007. In the suit, he alleged he had injured his back tripping over extension cords left on the floor. A judge dismissed the case.

Over the years, OSHA has also cited the family-owned machining company, which makes and services parts for everything from the oil and gas to aerospace industries, for safety violations and workplace injuries. In 2013, OSHA issued a fine initially assessed at $13,400 for failing to protect workers from machines. Two years later, a worker lost an index finger to a lathe at the facility. Last year, an employee was crushed when an 831-pound metal shaft tipped over.

Watson Grinding and Manufacturing was started by James Watson and is now owned and headed by his son, John M. Watson, who could not be reached for comment. The company started small in 1960 and has grown over the years to more than 100 employees.

Public records suggest the business grew to be a financial success. Watson’s former house has been listed at $4.1 million, and he took out a $2 million loan for a 6,400 square-foot modernist home west of River Oaks. Texas Parks and Wildlife lists him as the owner of a 56-foot yacht.

Jordan Blum contributed to this report.

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Houston News

Source : chron.com