Seven years ago this week, six workers were killed in a massive explosion at the site construction site for the Kleen Energy power plant in Middletown, CT. Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT), along with Democratic colleagues from the House Education and the Workforce Committee, marked the occasion by introducing the Protecting America’s Workers Act.
Courtney's friend, Ron Crabb, was one victim of the blast, whom he remembered during his announcement about the bill.
“As the 2010 incident in Middletown and the catastrophic explosion in 2013 at the West Fertilizer plant in Texas demonstrate, the benefits of ensuring a safe and healthy workplace are not just confined to the facility’s property - local communities also have a major stake in the safety of these workplaces. Since OSHA was first created, great strides have been made in protecting American workers, but too many workers are still injured, falling ill, or even killed when working in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. We need to make sure OSHA can continue its vital mission to protect America’s workers, so that moms and dads across this country will safely return home to their families after a hard day’s work.”
Among other things, the bill will:
- Require employers to correct serious hazards even in cases where they decide to contest OSHA's findings. This important protection already exists for mine workers as provided by the Mine Safety and Health Act.
- Update obsolete consensus standards that were incorporated by reference when OSHA was first enacted in 1970.
- Authorize felony penalties against employers who knowingly commit OSHA violations that result in death or serious bodily injury and extend such penalties to corporate officers and directors.
- Improve protections for workers in state plans by allowing the Secretary of Labor to assert concurrent enforcement authority in those states where the plan fails to meeting minimum requirements needed to protect workers’ safety and health, as recommended by a Government Accountability Office report.
- Expand OSHA coverage to more than 10 million workers who are employed by state and local governments and not currently provided OSHA protections.
The first co-sponsors of the bill are: Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Mark Takano (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Dina Titus (D-NV), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), and Gene Green (D-TX).
Rep. Scott, who serves as the ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, noted:
"This legislation will improve the health and safety of American workers. The fact remains that penalties for harming workers are often dismissed as the cost of doing business for some employers. Congress needs to increase these outdated penalties and give real teeth to the law, so that workers can remain safe while trying to earn a living.”
Trying to earn a living is exactly what the men who died at the Kleen Energy plant were doing. They were: Ronald Crabb, 42, of Colchester; Kenneth Haskell, 37, of New Durham, N.H.; Chris Walters, 48, of Florissant, Mo.; Peter Chepulis, 48, of Thomaston; Raymond Dobratz, 58, of Old Saybrook, and Roy Rushton, 36, of Hamilton, Ontario.
My niece heard and felt the blast many many miles away. Probably an effect from the geography of the area. I was in my truck , maybe six miles away, and didn't notice the blast , but saw the smoke rising and new that something was very wrong.
As someone who worked in the chemical industry for many years, I am astounded that the company involved had so little technical talent on site that they were able to make the incredibly stupid decision to use natural gas as a testing fluid before system completion. This is just so effing stupid. How do you legislate against stupidity?
I think that a one problem is that our general population is so ignorant of the chemical and physical properties of materials that this sort of thing cannot be prevented by herd common sense. And another problem is that people are so enslaved by their jobs that they are often not likely to protest even if they see potentially deadly decisions being made by management. They take the risk rather than get fired and lose their income. And some are maimed, and some are killed as a result.
Perhaps the legislation that is needed is to mandate any such large scale construction operations involving explosive materials needs to have a trained safety engineer on site. Also, I suspect that if this plant were being constructed in an area where there was lots of petrochemical industry, there would have been enough common knowledge among the construction workers to have prevented this pathetic turn of events. But this happened in a beautiful location, with contractors from the north woods, where experience with large volumes of natural gas was probably non-existent.
It was a tragic thing.