Statement from U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso on Workers Memorial Day

On this Workers’ Memorial Day 2011, I call on all of us in government and industry to remember those who have lost their lives and suffered serious injuries on the job. I believe that a safe workplace is a basic human right. At the Chemical Safety Board, we remain committed to our important mission: preventing accidents by investigating them thoroughly and making the results public along with critical safety recommendations aimed at saving lives and protecting the public and the environment. Our investigators and board members are keenly aware of what we need to do to assure that everyone gets to go home at the end of their shifts.

At the CSB we continue to see far too many chemical accidents in the workplace, investigating as many as we are able within our resources. Among these: Five workers died earlier this month disposing of fireworks at a storage facility in Hawaii. One worker was killed and a second severely burned in a flash fire at a powdered-iron production facility in Tennessee in January. And in December, an explosion ripped through a plant that processes highly flammable titanium powder in West Virginia, killing three workers.

Just over a year ago, eleven lives were lost on the BP/Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil production rig in a massive explosion, and seven workers lost their lives at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington, in an explosion following the rupture of a heat exchanger. When our investigation reports are finalized, we will point to root causes and challenge companies, trade associations, labor groups, standards organizations and regulators to adopt recommendations with the goal of saving workers’ lives.

Among other types of accidents, we are focused on explosions caused by hot work activities (such as welding and grinding) and combustible dust (from food products like sugar to fine pieces of metal). Workers will continue to be at risk at facilities where care is not taken to test for hydrocarbons before and during hot work or where combustible dust is permitted to accumulate to dangerous levels where it may be lofted and ignited by ever-present ignition sources.

Worker fatalities and injuries at workplaces where hazardous chemicals are produced or handled continue to occur. At the same time however, we recognize that workplaces are much safer than they were decades ago. Companies that operate conscientiously and that systematically follow the rules and look for potential hazards are those that enjoy a more productive labor force, greater support in their communities, and greater profits --- nothing is as costly as a bad accident.

This year on Workers’ Memorial Day we commemorate two important anniversaries. We congratulate the Occupational Health and Safety Administration on the occasion of its 40thanniversary. There is no question that the establishment of OSHA in 1971 has assured that millions of Americans now work in far safer environments than in the past because, regrettably, not all employers do the right thing in the absence of a regulatory environment. We at the CSB continue to work with OSHA on implementation of recommendations we have made to improve the Process Safety Management standard and the promulgation of a new standard addressing combustible dust explosion hazards.

This year we are also commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Young immigrant women workers found no escape when fire broke out in a work area in a large building in New York City because many exit doors were locked. Some 146 workers were killed in the blaze, and in their memory many workplace and labor-practice reforms live on, saving countless lives every day.

It is for those who worked at places like Triangle, Tesoro and the Transocean platform that we pause on this Workers Memorial Day and commit anew to the work that lies ahead in preventing future accidents.