CPR's Steinzor in the Houston Chronicle: With Dupont, OSHA's Tough Talk Falls Faint

Erin Kesler

May 26, 2015

This past Sunday, the Houston Chronicle published an opinion piece by CPR Scholar and University of Maryland Carey School of Law professor Rena Steinzor entitled, "With Dupont, OSHA's Tough Talk Falls Faint."

Steinzor recounts the chemical giant's negligence and reckless disregard for safety which ultimately led to the deaths of workers Gilbert and Robert TisnadoWade Baker and Crystle Wise.

She takes OSHA to account for the small penalties the agency levied against Dupont and notes, "Despite ample evidence that gross and reckless neglect of fundamental safety protocols caused the tragedy, OSHA could only muster alleged violations totaling $99,000 in civil penalties, an amount that DuPont could pay out of petty cash. Penalties this small relative to a company's size and revenues do not deter future misconduct by DuPont or its competitors. Instead, they are written off as a mere cost of doing business."

Steinzor acknowledges that OSHA is left with a statute that is far too weak when enforcing stiffer penalties, but lays out a potential path to holding Dupont leadership accountable:

As the poisonous vapor spilled from the valve, the worker standing nearby radioed for help and others ran to assist her. But the plant lacked enough emergency oxygen masks for rescue purposes. Later, two masks lay abandoned near two dead workers. Managers never set up an incident command center. They never called for help from a highly trained industry-sponsored response team organized to respond with specialized equipment. Most incredibly, no one called 911 until a full hour after the leak began. Even then, shift supervisorJody Knowles lied to the 911 operator, claiming that the public was not at risk when DuPont had not yet measured exposure at the plant's fence line. Firefighters sent to the site risked their lives because DuPont never filed an inventory of hazardous chemicals.

All these details suggest that the possibility of sending someone to jail for this pattern of reckless neglect should still be on the table. If the federal government is too intimidated to bring a criminal case, maybe Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson could step into the breach. She has the authority to charge responsible managers with reckless manslaughter when people die preventable deaths.

To read the entire piece, click here.

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