Sustained Outrage

OSHA: DuPont not reporting Belle injuries

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The press release yesterday from the U.S. Department of Labor made the “other-than-serious” violations at DuPont Co.’s Belle, W.Va., chemical plant sound like no big deal … nothing to worry about:

The company was also cited for five other-than-serious violations due to improper recordkeeping.

But when you read these citations, it actually looks pretty interesting to me.

For example, here’s one:

The 2005 OSHA-300 log was not updated per 29 CFR 1904.33(b)(1) to include newly discovered recordable injury or illness in that a recordable back contusion injury (case #05-55) that occurred on 12/29/2005 and resulted in job transfer or restriction was not recorded per the instructions under 29 CFR 1904.7(b)(4) until 02/3/10 as determined on Feb. 5, 2010.

Or this one:

The 2009 OSHA-300 log was not updated per 29 CFR 1904.33(b)(1) to include a newly discovered recordable injury or illness in that a recordable hearing threshold shift (case #05-54) that was discovered on 3/31/09 was not recorded per the instructions under 29 CFR 1904.10(a) as determined on May 10, 2010.

What’s this all mean?

Well, federal regulations require companies to maintain and file with OSHA something called an OSHA-300 log, on which they are to report information about workplace illnesses and injuries. They are also required to update those logs to include newly discovered injuries and illnesses. The updating must be done within seven calendar days of “receiving information that a recordable injury or illness has occurred.”

In this instance, OSHA has alleged that DuPont failed to update its injury-illness logs to add information about more than two dozen incidents in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

The very interesting thing here is that these injuries went unrecorded on DuPont’s logs for two, three, even four years … but somehow they were discovered and added to the log in the weeks after the January phosgene leak that led to the death of longtime Belle plant worker Danny Fish.

So, for example, 16 workplace injuries that occurred in 2006 went unreported by DuPont until suddenly all of them were discovered and added to the company’s logs within two weeks of Fish’s death. At least that’s the way OSHA says it happened, according to the citations issued by the agency.

The result?

Five “other-than-serious” violations (OSHA grouped all of the unreported injuries for each year together, so there’s one violation each for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and 2009) and a total of $5,000 in fines.

Keep in mind that under federal law, anyone who knowingly makes a false statement on any OSHA required documents — such as injury logs — can be prosecuted criminally and sent to jail for up to six months.

And let’s not forget that OSHA didn’t inspect the DuPont Belle plant even once in the five years prior to the phosgene leak that killed Danny Fish, and here’s what agency officials offered as their reason:

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.