In November 2014, a worker was overcome at a DuPont chemical manufacturing facility when a supply line unexpectedly released more than 20,000 lb of methyl mercaptan, a deadly chemical. Three co-workers came to the worker’s aid in an attempted rescue, but all four were asphyxiated fatally by the colorless, flammable, and highly toxic gas.
After the initial investigation into the four deaths, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found hazards that prompted the inspection at the facility to be expanded under the National Emphasis Program for chemical facilities.
On July 9, 2015, OSHA issued citations to DuPont for three willful, one repeat, and four serious violations at its chemical manufacturing plant in La Porte. The agency has proposed penalties of $273,000 for these new violations.
“DuPont promotes itself as having a ‘world-class safety’ culture and even markets its safety expertise to other employers, but these four preventable workplace deaths and the very serious hazards we uncovered at this facility are evidence of a failed safety program,” said assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, Dr. David Michaels. “Nothing can bring these workers back to their loved ones. I hope that our continued scrutiny into this facility and into working conditions at other DuPont plants will mean no family ever suffers this loss again. We here at OSHA want DuPont and the chemical industry as a whole to hear this message loud and clear.”
OSHA has also placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The program concentrates resources on inspecting employers who have demonstrated indifference towards creating a safe and healthy workplace by committing willful or repeated violations, and/or failing to abate known hazards. It also mandates follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.
Headquartered in Delaware, E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., (commonly known as DuPont) was cited in May for eight serious and one repeat violation regarding the fatalities with a penalty of $99,000. The company has contested the citations. In addition, the company was cited at its Darrow, LA facility in November 2014 and Deepwater, NJ facility in December 2014 for similar process safety management violations.
DuPont employs about 63,000 people with operations in about 90 countries globally. The La Porte location employs 313 workers who manufacture pesticides and other chemicals for the company.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director in Houston South, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities, or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742), the agency’s Houston South office at 281-286-0583, or its Houston North office at 281-591-2438.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA’s role is to promote safe and healthful working conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, outreach and education. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.
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