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DuPont Is Slapped With New Penalties Over Texas Plant Tragedy

Plant Safety: Government inspectors say a wider review of deadly chemical leak has turned up evidence of a failed safety program

by Glenn Hess
July 10, 2015

Credit: AP
Four workers died from exposure to methyl mercaptan during a leak at DuPont’s LaPorte, Texas, plant in November 2014.
Photo of the sign outside of DuPont’s LaPort, Texas, plant.
Credit: AP
Four workers died from exposure to methyl mercaptan during a leak at DuPont’s LaPorte, Texas, plant in November 2014.

The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) on Thursday hit DuPont with a $273,000 proposed penalty for safety violations at its facility in La Porte, Texas. That’s on top of fines OSHA proposed in May that stem from an accident last November, in which a leak of methyl mercaptan killed four workers.

“These four preventable workplace deaths and the very serious hazards we uncovered at this facility are evidence of a failed safety program,” says OSHA chief David Michaels.

OSHA’s initial investigation found hazards in the facility’s pesticide unit, where the accident occurred, resulting in the agency levying a $99,000 fine. Those findings prompted OSHA to expand its inspection to other parts of the facility, where the agency says it found additional worker safety violations.

“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,” Michaels adds. “We here at OSHA want DuPont and the chemical industry as a whole to hear this message loud and clear.”

OSHA issued citations to DuPont for three willful violations at the LaPorte plant, alleging that the company “purposefully disregarded” safety rules or “acted with plain indifference to employee safety.” The agency assessed a maximum penalty allowed by law of $70,000 for each violation.

In addition, OSHA cited DuPont for four “serious” violations, which means they could have led to injury or death, and added another $28,000 in fines, again the maximum allowed by law. A repeat violation of a previous worker safety citation brought the penalty total to $273,000.

Moreover, OSHA enrolled the Wilmington, Del.-based company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which concentrates inspections on 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.”

DuPont says it has not had the chance to review OSHA’s latest findings in detail but has been reexamining its procedures. “Operating the La Porte site safely is our number one priority. We have and will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure all units are safe to operate,” DuPont says.

The company says it has identified and is addressing most, if not all, of OSHA’s significant findings. “Through the course of our work, we have shut down the herbicide unit in order to take corrective measures, and the unit will not restart until the work is complete,” DuPont says.

DuPont is contesting the citations that led to the $99,000 fine, and has the option to fight the latest penalties. The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission.



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