The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released new information concerning the massive explosion on December 19 at the T2 Laboratories plant in Jacksonville, Florida.  The disaster killed four men out of the nine total who were working at the time.  In their announcement, the CSB investigators indicated that 33 people—more than double the number originally reported—suffered lacerations, contusions and temporary hearing loss from flying and falling debris.  The majority of the injured were individuals working in other facilities in the same industrial complex.This is the 3rd time in about a month that the CSB has provided information to the public about their work at the disaster site.  Its fellow-federal agencies—OSHA, ATF and NTSB—have also been (or are still) involved in the investigation, but I can’t find a word on their websites or in press accounts about the status of their work.  (Telephone inquiries to their public affairs offices have not yet been returned.)   

Because the CSB continues to provide regular updates with information about what they’ve learned to-date, the local media continues to cover the workplace safety story (WJXX, WTLV)WJXT followed-up with a newcast featuring Mr. Leon Bolden, someone who was near the site at the time of the blast.

“…the force of the explosion threw him to the ground. ‘I injured my back, my neck, my arms — it gave me an excruciating headache,’ Bolden said. ‘I thought I was dead.'” 

Although the site was too dangerous for investigators to enter, the CSB staff were using their time wisely, conducting more than 50 interviews of witnesses—including workers at the adjacent businesses.  It was through that “shoe leather” investigation that the CSB identified the dozens of additional people injured by the blast.  CSB lead investigator Robert Hall noted that many of the injured sought medical attention on their own.  Without doing this “door-to-door survey,” these injuries would have been lost in the official injury count, which would normally only include those treated at the scene or transported from the scene to the hospital. I’m encouraged to learn that the CSB’s investigation looks beyond the immediate explosion-scene worksite to the broader impact on adjacent workplaces and the community.  More importantly, because the CSB has been providing these regular updates—and even if the information is minimal—it increases the likelihood that worker and environmental safety and health issues will be covered by the press and thus, stay in the public’s and policymakers’ consciousness.  In order to advance a more robust, protective and precautionary public health agenda, these issues need to be on the public’s radar screen.         One person who says she will keep this disaster in her sight is Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D) who represents the Jacksonville, Florida region where the T2 Laboratory plant was located.  She announced:

“In response to this horrible explosion, I have been working on a draft letter to the Department of Labor concerning the possibility of labor violations at the site. The goal of the letter is to reinforce Chairman Miller and Chairwoman Woolsey’s letter [here], in which they were looking into the possibility that if OSHA had adopted stronger regulations (as suggested by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board), perhaps this tragedy could have been averted. In addition, I am also drafting a second letter to the EPA to ensure that the surrounding area is properly cleaned.” 

Kudos to the CSB for keeping us apprized of their work.  I’ll let you know if I hear back from OSHA, ATF or NTSB.

Comments

  1. #1 Tasha
    January 28, 2008

    I was struck by an interesting statement in your post:
    “Because the CSB continues to provide regular updates with information about what they’ve learned to-date, the local media continues to cover the workplace safety story.”

    In other words, part of the media’s apathy to workplace safety stories is because the information is not readily available and advertised to them. Perhaps if OSHA and other organizations wrote more press releases or provided more constant updates these tragedies would actually get some public air time.

  2. #2 Celeste Monforton
    January 28, 2008

    Tasha,
    That was EXACTLY what I was thinking—-if the agencies provide updates from time-to-time, newspaper and tv reporters (especially in the locale where the incident took place) are more likely to write a follow-up on the story. I think some reporters have so many topics vying for their attention that a well put together news release from an agency may make it easier for them to put together a story. Of course, the really skilled journalists are probably not going to just “fall” for the agency’s news release, but it might prompt them into digging a little for a story beyond just what is mentioned in the news release.

    Celeste

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