OSHA and DuPont: Belle plant seldom inspected

January 26, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

dupont627.jpg

Gazette photo by Chris Dorst

When federal workplace safety inspectors walked through the gates of DuPont Co.’s Belle, W.Va., chemical plant yesterday to begin investigating worker Carl “Dan” Fish’s death,  it was the first them they had set foot in the place in nearly five years.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration last inspected the Belle facility in March 2005.  That’s despite the fact that, as the federal Chemical Safety  Board pointed out:

The DuPont Belle complex is a large facility that is regulated under the EPA Risk Management Program and the OSHA Process Safety Management standard because of the volume and hazards of the materials it handles and the potential risk to workers and the community.

That March 2005 inspection prompted OSHA to cited DuPont for one violation of process safety management regulations, but federal officials settled that case without imposing any fine.

And if you dig a little deeper in OSHA’s online inspections database, you’ll find that prior to March 2005, the last time federal workplace safety and health inspectors went near the DuPont Belle plant was a decade earlier — in July 1995.

How could this happen? I’m glad you asked.

Take a look at this story I did a few years ago as part of the Gazette’s look back on the Willow Island disaster, which killed 51 workers in April 1978:

Two months after 51 construction workers plunged to their deaths at Willow Island, then-Assistant Labor Secretary Eula Bingham explained why her agency couldn’t have inspected the construction site more frequently.

At the time, 17 Occupational Safety and Health Administration officers were charged with overseeing 31,000 workplaces across West Virginia.

“Our area offices are constantly making very difficult choices in using inspection resources to respond to the most serious workplace problems,” Bingham told a June 1978 congressional hearing held just up the river from Willow Island at St. Marys. “Even if this agency were to double or triple its compliance resources, we could never regularly visit the five million workplaces throughout the nation.”

Today, staffing at OSHA’s West Virginia office in Charleston is nearly a third smaller than it was when the Willow Island scaffold came crashing down.

Twelve OSHA officers must cover the entire state, inspecting power plants, steel mills, logging operations and all other workplaces except coal mines.

Only nine of those 12 are full-time inspectors. The other three are team leaders, supervisors who help out on more complicated investigations, OSHA officials say.

It would take those nine OSHA inspectors an estimated 100 years to inspect each West Virginia workplace once, the AFL-CIO said in a report released last week.

Last year, the AFL-CIO issued an updated report on OSHA staffing. Things hadn’t improved:

It would take the OSHA office in Charleston nearly 100 years to inspect every workplace in the Mountain State.

10 Responses to “OSHA and DuPont: Belle plant seldom inspected”

  1. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Here is a statement that OSHA sent me:

    They have not been inspected since 2005 because we have not received a formal complaint or referral, there have been no fatalities and their injury and illness rate is low enough so that they are not on our Site Specific Targeting list.

    We just launched our chemical plant NEP as a follow up to the oil refinery NEP where we will be inspecting chemical plants for compliance with PSM.

    Ken.

  2. Leslee says:

    We are not safe. Workers are expendable, citizens are expendable. We are all just cogs in the machine. Oh, Mother Jones, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, where are you when we need you?

  3. […] Blogs @ The Charleston Gazette – » OSHA and DuPont: Belle plant seldom inspected blogs.wvgazette.com/watchdog/2010/01/26/osha-and-dupont-belle-plant-seldom-inspected – view page – cached When federal workplace safety inspectors walked through the gates of DuPont Co.’s Belle, W.Va., chemical plant yesterday to begin investigating worker Carl “Dan” Fish’s death, it was the first them they had set foot in the place in nearly five years. […]

  4. […] this article: Blogs @ The Charleston Gazette – » OSHA and DuPont: Belle plant … Share and […]

  5. […] a West Virginia newspaper has leveled criticism at OSHA for the number of inspectors that cover the state in the wake of an employee death at a DuPont […]

  6. Joe says:

    No chemical company is more safe than DuPont. When an incident occurs at a DuPont site there is thorough investigation of what went wrong and how do we help insure it doesn’t happen again. Most companies are not at this level of safety and scrutiny. The inspectors are spending most of their times at these sites.

  7. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Joe,

    Interesting that your comment came from a computer IP address that is registered to DuPont.

    Perhaps you could identify yourself and your title …

    We generally allow anonymous comments on our blogs, but when someone is trying to hide their direct involvement in an issue behind a fake name, we think that’s unfair to our readers.

    Ken.

  8. […] releases of chloromethane, phosphoric acid, and sulphur trioxide.  In Ward’s ”OSHA and DuPont: Belle plant seldom inspected,” he noted it was the first time in nearly five years that federal safety inspectors* had […]

  9. bh says:

    No company is more safe than Dupont? Why did time elapse before the leaks were reported? Why did the employees and or guard not have the information immediately what chemical was involved? Mr. Fish may have been treated sooner with better results. This accident is just one in the many that may unfortunately come. Whether it is Dupont, Bayer, or Dow, at Belle, South Charleston, or Institute, we, the citizens, are all doomed. Remember Bhopal? It could happen with any toxic chemical. Think about it!

  10. funfun says:

    Nor is the slippery Management of the disreputable DuPont beyond faking its much advertised SAFETY. It was only a few years ago, DuPont Management was caught by OSHA cooking their “SAFETY” books at their former fibers plant in Seaford, in their home state of Delaware. OSHA discovered DuPont had not reported over 100 occupational injuries and illnesses at this site, 117 to be exact! OSHA slapped DuPont with a $70,000 fine. It’s a matter of public record in the OSHA files. …funfundvierzig..

Leave a Reply