Deadly Incident Shows Importance of Addressing OSHA Citations Regarding Process Safety Management

OSHA recently investigated a DuPont facility after four workers were killed by the release of a lethal gas. OSHA cited DuPont for 11 safety violations and fined them $99,000. Nine of these violations were classified as “serious” (OSHA defines a serious violation as when the workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm), while one was a repeat violation.

A DuPont worker was overcome by the release of methyl mercaptan gas after she opened a drain on a methyl mercaptan vent line. Two co-workers rushed to her aid, but were unaware of the gas leak and were also overcome. None of these workers wore any respiratory protection. A fourth co-worker aware of the gas leak attempted a rescue, but was also overcome by the gas leak. All four workers died as a result.

OSHA issued a repeat citation for failure to train employees on the operating procedure for the building, ventilation fans, and the safe work practices to be used when they were not operational, as well as failure to train employees on safe work practices for opening and draining the methyl mercaptan vent lines. DuPont had originally been cited for this in 2010. “Had the company assessed the dangers involved, or trained their employees on what to do if the ventilation system stopped working, they might have had a chance” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels.

Additional OSHA citations to DuPont included failure to identify, evaluate, and control hazards that workers are exposed to when engineering controls (in this case ventilation fans) are out of service, failure to implement safe work practices to provide for the control of hazards during process operations, failure to repair ventilation fans in a timely matter, failure to restrict access to the affected section of the building when ventilation fans were out of service, bypassing safety interlocks, failure to train employees to recognize potential exposure to respiratory hazards, and failure to implement adequate engineering controls or provide protective equipment to keep employee exposure to methyl mercaptan below 10 ppm.

This incident shows what can happen if companies fail to correct deficiencies found by regulatory agencies such as OSHA. It also shows what can happen if a company fails to provide proper procedures and training when working with hazardous materials. This tragic incident may have been avoided had DuPont implemented proper training after the 2010 citation. OSHA provides compliance guidelines and recommendations for process safety management.

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