If we asked you to name a well known corporation with an excellent safety reputation, DuPont is one name that might come to mind. But a new report on three gas leaks and a fatality at a DuPont plant calls the company’s safety culture into question.
DuPont’s Belle, WV, chemical manufacturing plant experienced three gas leaks in a 33-hour period on Jan. 22 and 23, 2010. One caused a worker’s death.
In the first incident, an alarm led DuPont workers to discover that 2,000 pounds of methyl chloride, a flammable gas, had been leaking unnoticed into the atmosphere for five days.
The next morning, workers found a leak in a pipe carrying oleum, which produced a fuming cloud of the gas.
A phosgene leak occurred the next day. Employee Carl Fish was exposed to phosgene and died. He was taking readings when a line failed. Investigators said he was sprayed on the chest and face with a lethal dose of phosgene.
The report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) found common problems in DuPont Belle management systems in all three incidents:
- maintenance and inspections
- alarm recognition and management
- incident investigation
- emergency response and communication, and
- hazard recognition.
Specifically, the CSB found that the phosgene hoses were supposed to be replaced every month, but hadn’t been for seven months. DuPont had also considered using stronger hoses for phosgene transport, but didn’t.
Among the CSB’s recommendations for DuPont’s Belle facility:
- Revise its near-miss reporting and investigation policy to emphasize anonymous participation by all employees so minor problems can be addressed before they become serious.
- Ensure that its computer systems will provide effective scheduling of preventive maintenance, such as replacement of the phosgene hoses.
- Enclose all of its phosgene production and storage areas so that any releases of phosgene will be contained.
Aside from finding specific causes of the leaks and making recommendations, the CSB report included particular concerns about the situation given DuPont’s strong name in safety.
“DuPont became recognized across industry as a safety innovator and leader,” said CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso. “We at the CSB were therefore quite surprised and alarmed to learn that DuPont had not just one but three accidents that occurred over a 33-hour period.”
“In light of this,” said CSB board member John Bresland, “I would hope that DuPont officials are examining the safety culture company-wide.”
Should an entire company’s safety culture be called into question after incidents at just one of many facilities it owns? Tell us what you think in the Comments Box below.