It remains to be seen how many lawsuits will be filed as a result of the West Chemical and Fertilizer explosion.
The day of the explosion, at least 14 people lost their lives, and part of a small Texas town was obliterated. From media reports to date, it appears the plant’s owners were relying on a decades old exemption allowing them to avoid targeted workplace safety requirements and various inspections, and kept them from participating in a prevention program involving environmental officials.
The owner relied on an exemption that was nearly twenty years old, a claim the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) vowed to investigate. By shielding the plant in the name of the stated exemption, the company was then only required to adhere to more lenient rules and regulations and ultimately, also be able to steer clear of various OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules.
The implications of the company’s claim may have an impact on other businesses that store large amounts of dangerous chemicals. If what West Fertilizer states is true — that they may sell primarily to end users and thus avoid stricter regulations —- the chemical storage industry may become a horrific time bomb looking for a place to explode.
In the case of West Fertilizer, they had been sitting on 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that should have flagged them for inspection. Oversights, or legislative flaws such as this one, need to be addressed, as workers’ lives are at stake.
As it stands, the retail exemption works to allow a company an exemption from more strict regulations, provided that more than half of their sales were to end users —- such a farmers. Apparently, the OSHA does not check such claims out, unless the site is inspected.
In the meantime, thanks to loopholes build into legislation that should protect employees in workplaces such as this, people are dying. The West Fertilizer plant has not been inspected since 1985. Certainly something is wrong with that picture.
This explosion is a clear example of why workplaces should not self-designate their status to avoid government rules intended to protect workers. Workers who lost their lives in this blast or were seriously injured should speak to a skilled Austin injury lawyer to find out what their rights are and how they may obtain compensation.