Gazette photo by Chris Dorst
The inspection results from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration are in regarding the terrible poison gas leak that killed four workers at DuPont Co.’s plant in LaPorte, Texas, last November. Here’s the bottom line from the OSHA press release:
Four workers killed by a lethal gas in November 2014 would be alive today had their employer, DuPont, taken steps to protect them, a U.S. Department of Labor investigation found.
The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today cited DuPont for 11 safety violations and identified scores of safety upgrades the company must undertake to prevent future accidents at its Lannate/API manufacturing building in La Porte. The company employs 313 workers who manufacture crop protection materials and chemicals there.
“Four people lost their lives and their families lost loved ones because DuPont did not have proper safety procedures in place,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Had the company assessed the dangers involved, or trained their employees on what to do if the ventilation system stopped working, they might have had a chance.”
The fatal incident occurred as one worker was overwhelmed when methyl mercaptan gas was unexpectedly released when she opened a drain on a methyl mercaptan vent line. Two co-workers who came to her aid were also overcome. None of the three wore protective respirators. A fourth co-worker — the brother of one of the fallen men — attempted a rescue, but was unsuccessful. All four people died in the building.
Methyl mercaptan is a colorless gas with a strong odor. It is used in pesticides, jet fuels and plastics. At dangerous levels of exposure, the gas depresses the central nervous system and affects the respiratory center, producing death by respiratory paralysis.
Among the citations issued by federal inspectors was one for a “repeat violation” for allegedly “not training employees on using the building’s ventilation system and other safety procedures, such as how to respond if the fans stopped working.” OSHA noted, without further explanation:
In July 2010, DuPont was cited for a similar violation.
Kanawha Valley residents may remember that similar violation. It was issued to DuPont’s Belle plant following a series of incidents in January 2010 that left one worker dead.
In the Belle incident, the OSHA citation in question stated:
Small Lots Manufacturing (SLM) Unit, Phosgene Shed: Employees working in the SLM Unit were not trained to recognize that leaving liquid phosgene in a non-vented flexible transfer hose for an extended period of time could result in the rupture of the flexible hose due to the thermal expansion of the liquid phosgene as determined on January 25, 2010.
The LaPorte “repeat citation” states:
(a) On November 15, 2015, and at times prior thereto, at the DuPont facility in LaPorte, TX, the employer did not train employees on the written operating procedure for the Lannate/API/MIC building ventilation fans (“Building Ventilation System Function of Operation”) and all safe work practices that needed to be employed in the event they were not operational.
(b) On November 15, 2015, and at times prior thereto, at the DuPont facility in LaPorte, TX, the employer failed to train employees on the safe work practices for draining Low Point Drains located near the 18HV, and did not ensure employees followed line opening and MSS procedures.
Reporting by the Houston Chronicle has already detailed how the “La Porte plant typified DuPont’s ills“:
Turnover, safety shortcuts, deferred maintenance and excess pollution made the La Porte plant a microcosm of larger problems in DuPont, according to Houston Chronicle reviews of government reports and civil lawsuits, and interviews with former employees in several states. Records show that La Porte is one of more than a dozen North American DuPont plants that have been sued, fined or investigated over major safety lapses and accidents. The deaths in La Porte brought the total to eight fatalities at DuPont sites in the last seven years. And it all happened as the company undertook an aggressive campaign to reinvent itself, by boosting productivity, selling off assets and slashing costs.
And has the Chronicle has also reported, the federal Chemical Safety Board had already expressed concerns back in February about what happened at LaPorte:
November’s lethal chemical release at a DuPont plant in La Porte would not have happened if the company had not ignored a series of problems or had developed stronger safeguards to deal with them, according to findings the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released Thursday.
“What we’re seeing here … is definitely a problem of safety culture in the corporation of DuPont,” CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said as he briefed reporters in Houston.