Under pressure from worker safety advocates, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has decided to return to a policy of including the names of deceased workers in its investigative reports.

The CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical incidents, has included names of fatally injured workers in its reports since 2014. The agency changed its policy in June with the release of a report about a 2014 fatal blowout at a Pryor Trust gas well in Oklahoma and a 2018 chemical release at a DuPont fertilizer plant in LaPorte. Nine workers died in those two incidents, but none of them were named in the CSB report.

The CSB stopped including the names of those killed in the chemical accidents it investigated because doing so “may infer culpability on the part of the entity responsible for the operation of the facility where the incident occurred,” according to a spokesperson.

The change drew an angry response in the form of a letter to the agency and testimony at it June 26 meeting from speakers who urged the agency to reconsider its policy. No member of the public spoke in favor of continuing to exclude the names of deceased workers.

National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH); WisCOSH; Fe y Justicia Worker Center; Memorial for Workplace Fatalities; several unions; occupational safety and health professionals and public health educators from SUNY Downstate and UMass Lowell, were among those who signed the letter or testified at the meeting.

At its board meeting yesterday, CSB Interim Executive Authority Kristen Kulinowski announced that board members had previously voted to amend its Accident Victim and Family Communication Program to include publication of names of the deceased in future CSB investigative reports, unless there is an objection by immediate family members. CSB members also voted to amend the DuPont LaPorte and Pryor Trust reports to add the names of individuals who died in the two incidents.

National COSH health and safety project consultant Peter Dooley praised the decisions. 

“Workers who lose their lives on the job must be remembered. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board made the right call by deciding to include the names of deceased workers when it releases an investigative report about workplace fatalities – and this should be the standard across all federal, state and local agencies.”

Holly Shaw-Hollis’ husband Scott died after a fall from a commercial barge in Philadelphia in 2002. Shaw-Hollis, who is a member of the board of directors of both National COSH and the Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PhilaPOSH), said she remembers her husband every day.

“My sons remember their father every day.  No report about these terrible, preventable incidents is complete if it does not include the names of those we have lost. Naming those who have been killed reminds everyone that they are not just a number and a statistic, but a person with a family who loved them and will miss them. A family whose lives have been forever changed by the tragic event.”

Dooley said it was clear that the CSB “gave thoughtful consideration to strong feedback from workers, families, advocates and occupational safety and health experts.”

“The CSB and other safety agencies must do everything possible to gather the facts about how workers died in order to prevent further tragedies,” he said. “The first step is knowing who the people are who lost their lives.”