Updated (6/19/08) below
Just before last year’s holiday season, Charles Budds Bolchoz, 48; best friends Karey Renard Henry, 35, and Parish Lamar Ashley, 36; and company owner Robert Scott Gallagher, 49, lost their lives in a violent explosion at T2 Laboratories in Jacksonville, Florida (previous posts here, here). The firm manufacturered Ecotane®, a gasoline additive “methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl” (i.e., MMT® or MCMT), which increases the octane rating of gasoline. Both OSHA and the CSB began their investigations, with CSB providing several updates in the early weeks of their work.
Now that the six months anniversary of the four worker’s deaths is here, I wondered what the workers’ families, co-workers and the community have learned from OSHA’s investigation. (Under Section 9(c) of the OSH Act, OSHA has six months to issue citations.)
Because I hadn’t come across any local news coverage about OSHA’s investigation and conclusions, I contacted OSHA’s local office in Jacksonville, FL. The helpful individual who answered the phone confirmed that citations had been issued to the employer. No news release, however, was issued by OSHA to provide the public with information about what went wrong at the plant. Perhaps OSHA staff is providing this information first to the victims’ families, and then will share it with the public. I hope that’s what’s happening.
Jacksonville.com reports that the T2 laboratory is closed permanently, and an attorney for the company received the citations on Wednesday, June 18 (here). OSHA issued two citations, listing six violations of health and safety standards. They included:
- a 5(a)(1) violation (general duty clause) for failing to have a backup water supply, failing to properly maintain the high pressure reactor, and failing to provide a blast resistant control room. The assessed penalty for this citation was $4,900.
- a violation of the HAZWOPER standard for failing to have an emergency action plan, especially with respect to evacuation procedures. The assessed penalty for this citation was $4,900.
- violations of the HAZCOM standard, with an assessed penalty of $2,100.
The total assessed penalty is $12,650.
An article in the Jacksonville Business Journal quotes Mr. Alan Howard, an attorney representing T2 with:
“‘We believe T2 was in compliance with all applicable laws at the time of the accident.’ He said OSHA’s findings did not lay any of the accident’s blame on the company or its employees. Howard added that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which is the primary agency responsible for investigating the accident, had not reached any conclusion on the cause of the accident.”
It’s kind of interesting that Mr. Howard thinks that the CSB is the lead agency. Both OSHA and CSB have authority to investigate this disaster, with each having different statutory mandates.
OSHA is responsible for determining if any of the agency’s H&S standards were violated, while the CSB sets out to determine the cause(s) of the incident. Although CSB doesn’t issue citations, its reports typically explain in painful detail the safety management system misteps, equipment failures, economic decisions and other factors which caused and/or contributed to the death and destruction. Perhaps the CSB’s report will illuminate us on why OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard (1910.119) didn’t apply to this worksite, or if it did, is there a “loop-hole” in the regulation that needs to be closed to prevent this type of explosion from occurring again.