Four workers killed by a lethal gas in November 2014 would be alive today had their employer, DuPont, taken steps to protect them, an OSHA investigation found.
The agency has cited DuPont for 11 safety violations and identified scores of safety upgrades the company must undertake to prevent future accidents at its Lannate/API manufacturing building in La Porte. The company employs 313 workers who manufacture crop protection materials and chemicals there.
“Four people lost their lives and their families lost loved ones because DuPont did not have proper safety procedures in place,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “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.”
How it happened
The fatal incident occurred as one worker was overwhelmed when methyl mercaptan gas was unexpectedly released when she opened a drain on a methyl mercaptan vent line. Two co-workers who came to her aid were also overcome. None of the three wore protective respirators. A fourth co-worker – the brother of one of the fallen men – attempted a rescue, but was unsuccessful. All four people died in the building.
Methyl mercaptan is a colorless gas with a strong odor. It is used in pesticides, jet fuels and plastics. At dangerous levels of exposure, the gas depresses the central nervous system and affects the respiratory center, producing death by respiratory paralysis.
DuPont was cited for one repeat, nine serious and one other than serious OSHA violations. The repeat violation was assessed for not training employees on using the building’s ventilation system and other safety procedures, such as how to respond if the fans stopped working. In July 2010, DuPont was cited for a similar violation.
A complete list of the citations is available. OSHA has fined the company $99,000.
Headquartered in Delaware, E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., (commonly known as DuPont) was founded in 1802 and was incorporated in Delaware in 1915. The company is a global leader in the agriculture and nutrition industries. DuPont employs about 63,000 people with operations in about 90 countries worldwide.