Site of Putnam explosion never inspected by OSHA

May 14, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

Emergency crews responded to several explosions at the Airgas plant in Black Betsy Monday afternoon. Two men were taken to Cabell Huntington Hospital with first- and second-degree burns. Gazette photo by Chip Ellis.

Today’s Gazette story by Kate White about the Monday explosion that injured two workers at the Airgas facility in Putnam County included this bit of news:

Members of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration arrived at the scene.

As best I can tell, this is the first time anyone from OSHA has ever visited this particular facility. OSHA data includes no record of the agency ever inspecting the site. This morning, OSHA Charleston area office Director Prentice Cline told me:

I can’t find any history on that facility.

At first, it looked like perhaps this facility was one of those that gets a free ride under federal rules that exempt certain small employers from OSHA inspections. But this afternoon, through OSHA’s public affairs office, Cline explained that wasn’t the case:

My understanding is that this site has 12 employees, so the number of employees would not be an issue. They could be targeted under the site specific targeting list, however we have no history with them and my understanding is their injury rate is not high enough to place them on that list. Otherwise, to my knowledge, the facility would not be targeted under the other current national, regional, or local emphasis programs. So, an unprogrammed event such as complaint, referral, fatality, catastrophe would be the only reason for us to be at the site. I have no evidence of any unprogrammed activity at the facility until now according to our records.

This really shouldn’t come as any surprise. Remember that, unlike the nation’s coal mines, other workplaces are not required to be inspected periodically by federal safety officials. We’ve written about this before here, here and here. And, as the AFL-CIO explained in its latest Death on the Job report, at the current rate, it would take OSHA’s small office in West Virginia — they’ve got just 8 inspectors — more than 100 years to inspect every workplace in the state.

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