After one worker at a DuPont plant was overcome by a lethal gas, three others tried to rescue her. All four died at the plant, and now OSHA has issued fines.
The incident occurred at DuPont’s plant in La Porte, TX, when a worker was overwhelmed by methyl mercaptan gas that was unexpectedly released when she opened a drain on a vent line.
Two of her co-workers who tried to help her were also overcome. None of the three wore respirators. A fourth co-worker – the brother of one of the three employees who were already overcome – attempted a rescue. All four died in the building.
OSHA issued 11 safety violations with a total of $99,000 in fines to DuPont for the November 2014 incident: one repeat, nine serious and one other-than-serious.
The repeat violation was 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.
The nine serious violations include:
- incomplete piping and instrument diagrams
- process hazard analysis wasn’t appropriate to the complexity of the process and didn’t identify, evaluate and control the hazards involved in the process
- process hazard analysis didn’t address engineering and administrative controls applicable to the hazards
- written procedures covering operating limits didn’t address steps required to correct deviations
- lack of lockout/tagout procedures
- failure to train employees in the respiratory hazards to which they were potentially exposed during routine situations, and
- employees were exposed to an airborne concentration of methyl mercaptan in excess of the ceiling concentration of 10 parts per million.
The other-than-serious violation was for not maintaining a contract employee injury and illness log.
DuPont says it’s acted on the findings of its internal investigation and taken steps to prevent a similar incident.
Methyl mercaptan is a colorless gas with a strong odor. It’s used in pesticides, jet fuels and plastics. The gas can depress the central nervous system and can produce death by respiratory paralysis.
The DuPont La Porte plant manufactures crop protection chemicals.
DuPont has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA or contest the findings before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.