WEST, TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Nearly six months after the West Fertilizer Company plant exploded killing 15 people, the Occupational Safety and Health Adnministration or OSHA cited the company for 24 serious safety violations.
It was ammonium nitrate that exploded after a fire ignited a storage building last April.
OSHA says the West Fertilizer Company exposed its workers to fire and explosion hazards from ammonium nitrate, and to chemical burning and inhalation hazards from anhydrous ammonia.
Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who chairs the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, held a conference call Thursday to announce the news.
She says she did so because OSHA could not due to the partial government shutdown.
After hearing about the violations, Senator Boxer called it a “shock” and said, “This was an accident waiting to happen.”
OSHA proposed a fine of $118,300.
But Senator Boxer says the penalty should be increased. “I’m going to talk to my friends at the Department of Labor and talk about this.”
Among the safety violations OSHA cited against West Fertilizer, failure to have the appropriate number of fire extinguishers, failure to have an emergency response plan, and unsafe handling and storage of both ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia.
Reached by phone Thursday morning, Donald Adair, the owner of the now defunct company, declined comment on OSHA’s violations and proposed fine.
Records show OSHA had not inspected the West plant since 1985.
Boxer says there should be more inspections, but acknowledges the reality at OSHA. “There’s no question they are short-staffed. Yes, there should be more inspections. There’s how many of these (plants) across the country? There are thousands of plants. You have to follow the rules. There are safety-place rules. We have to hope that our businesses have the moral obligation to do the right thing.”
Steve Soukup and his wife are re-building after the explosion heavily damaged the house they built in West.
He says he understands OSHA’s violations, but pointed to the fact that the last time the agency inspected the plant was back in 1985. “Why didn’t they inspect better before the fact? If there weren’t a fire, if they could ever determine what caused the fire, this wouldn’t have happened. This thing was standing there since 1962, never had a problem.”
Residents in this small farming community like Soukup defend Adair. “I can’t really say I fault them. Yeah, they should have been more diligent maybe. They were good responsible people. They were not trying to go out and gouge people. They were farmers themselves.”
The federal government is now reviewing what happened in West and is considering new regulations for ammonium nitrate to prevent another disaster.
But Soukup disagrees saying, “I think there’s probagbly enough regulations. Just put enough inspectors on the job and enforce the number of regulations we already have.”
Safety process engineers and the Chemical Safety Board though say there are too many holes in the current regulations and that regulatory action must be taken to reduce the threat of a similar explosion at a chemical plant.
Due to the partial government shutdown, all federal investigations into the West explosion have been put on hold.
The Chemical Safety Board was due to release its preliminary investigative report October 24th in West.
No word if that has now been delayed.
DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The Occupation and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the West Fertilizer Company with 24 serious safety violations six months after a horrific explosion that killed 15 people and destroyed much of the small city of West.
OSHA has proposed a fine of $118,300 against the company.
Senator Barbara Boxer, D-California, says she announced the news because OSHA could not due to the partial government shutdown.
Investigators say they still can’t determine what sparked a fire at the plant that ultimately led to the massive explosion of the ammonium nitrate that was stored there.
Senator Boxer says she was shocked after hearing the list of violations.
OSHA cited West Fertilizer Company for exposing workers to fire/explosion hazards of ammonium nitrate and chemical burns and inhalation hazards from anhydrous ammonia storage and servicing.
Among the other safety violations cited by OSHA:
- unsafe handling and storage of ammonium nitrate & anhydrous ammonia
- failing to have an emergency response plan
- failing to have a respiratory protection program
- failing to have appropriate fire extinguishers
- failing to have a hazard communication program
- forklift operators were not trained or certified
CBS 11’s Jack Fink called the owner of the now defunct company, Donald Adair, but he declined comment.
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