OSHA cites, fines DuPont for fatal phosgene leak
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal inspectors on Monday cited DuPont Co. with multiple workplace safety violations related to the January leak of phosgene that killed a worker at the company's Belle plant.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued six serious violations and five other violations. OSHA fined DuPont $43,000.
Among other allegations, OSHA inspectors said DuPont had not completed a thorough analysis of the potential hazards of the phosgene unit where worker Danny Fish was sprayed with poison gas on Jan. 23.
David Michael, assistant labor secretary for OSHA, said there is no excuse for any company -- let alone one as big as DuPont -- not to have a more "robust worker safety and health program" that includes such hazard reviews.
"Facilities like the Belle plant need active safety and health programs," Michaels said in an interview. "We thought these was very serious. [The violations] obviously led to the death of this worker."
OSHA and various other agencies have focused on the Belle facility for more than six months, after a series of incidents that included a leak of toxic and flammable methyl chloride that went undetected for nearly a week. In the worst of those incidents, Fish, a 32-year-plant veteran, was sprayed with phosgene, a chemical building block used as a poison-gas weapon during World War I.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inspectors cited DuPont in March, saying the hose involved in the phosgene leak was five months overdue to be replaced. The EPA also said the braided-steel hose was the wrong kind of equipment to be used in the first place because of the extremely hazardous nature of phosgene.
Inspectors from the EPA, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and other agencies have focused on the braided steel hose used to transfer phosgene from 1-ton cylinders to a pesticide production unit.
OSHA alleged that DuPont did not properly inspect the phosgene transfer hoses and did not train workers on the hazards associated with the chemical.
Michaels acknowledged that prior to Fish's death, OSHA had not inspected the Belle plant for nearly five years and had not inspected it for another decade prior to that.
Michaels said that legislation pending in Congress would increase the penalties OSHA could have assessed DuPont, but that even the higher amounts might not be enough to affect the behavior of such a larger company.
"We have to shift the burden of safety and health inspections from OSHA back to the employers," Michaels said. "What we have to do is change the culture of these plants."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.