OSH Act violation sends company president to federal prison
Two workers died from exposure to hydrogen sulfide
The former president of Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services LLC (PACES) will be going to prison for occupational safety crimes which resulted in the death of an employee.
Matthew Lawrence Bowman, 41, of Houston, was sentenced last month to 12 months in federal prison, after pleading to violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and making a false statement. Bowman was also ordered to pay $5,000 in fines.
Bowman admitted to not properly protecting PACES employees from exposure to hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas resulting in the death of truck driver Joey Sutter on Dec. 18, 2008. In addition, Bowman admitted to directing employees to falsify transportation documents to conceal that the wastewater was coming from PACES after a disposal facility put a moratorium on all shipments from PACES after it received loads containing hydrogen sulfide.
“Today’s sentence is a just punishment for Bowman’s actions, which placed workers at unacceptable risk and had fatal consequences,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Justice Department.
"Pitilessly and needlessly"
“We extend our deepest condolences and well wishes to the friends and family of Mr. Sutter, who died pitilessly and needlessly because of the criminally negligent actions of Matthew Bowman,” said U.S. Attorney John M. Bales.
“Environmental violations are serious crimes, and in a worst-case scenario, they can kill people,” said Ivan Vikin, special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Texas. “In this case, a senior manger’s actions led directly to the death of one of his employees. This is why we have laws regarding the safe and legal handling of hazardous materials. Enforcement of these laws must be consistent and uncompromising.”
Bowman was president and owner of PACES, located in Port Arthur, Texas, and CES Environmental Services (CES) located in Houston. PACES was in operation from November 2008 to November 2010, and was in the business of producing and selling caustic materials to paper mills. The production of caustic materials involved hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), hydrogen sulfide is an acute toxic substance that is the leading cause of sudden death in the workplace. Employers are required by OSHA to implement engineering and safety controls to prevent employees from exposure above harmful limits of hydrogen sulfide.
Workers not protected
Bowman was responsible for approving and directing PACES production operations, the disposal of hydrogen sulfide wastewater, and ensuring implementation of employee safety precautions. In some cases, Bowman personally handled the investigation of work-related employee injuries, directed the transportation of PACES wastewater, and determined what safety equipment could be purchased or maintained. In the cases at issue, hazardous materials were transported illegally with false documents and without the required placards. Most importantly, the workers were not properly protected from exposure to hazardous gases. The exposure resulted in the deaths of two employees, Joey Sutter and Charles Sittig, who were truck drivers, at the PACES facility on Dec. 18, 2008 and Apr. 14, 2009. Placarding is critical to ensure the safety of first responders in the event of an accident or other highway incident.