John Lowman, The Facts, May 8, 2007
FREEPORT — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Dow Chemical Co. $10,000 for four alleged safety violations.
In a document with an official release date of April 30 but available Monday, Dow is fined $5,000 for two alleged offenses and not fined for two others. The action comes after an investigation of a small chlorine release in November.
Dow officials will meet with OSHA representatives today to discuss the citations, company spokeswoman Tracie Copeland said.
The four-point citation states written procedures did not address normal operation, Dow did not implement safe work practices for employees for control of hazards during some operations, did not document equipment compliance, and did not perform appropriate checks and inspections of equipment installation consistent with design specifications and manufacturer’s instructions.
Two of the citations include $5,000 fines. The document is signed by OSHA Houston Area Director Charles E. Williams.
All four are listed as “serious” and involve the Chlorine Liquefaction unit, A-19 block.
However, they do not link Dow to the death of process operator Gerald Hamilton, 36, of Galveston.
On Nov. 15, Hamilton was apparently clearing a pipeline at the plant when less than a third of a gallon of chlorine was released into the air. The next morning — about 12 hours later — he died at Brazosport Regional Health System of an undetermined cause.
Hamilton, who worked at Dow just more than a year, was wearing a breathing apparatus attached to an oxygen tank while he was clearing the line. It is not known if he inhaled any of the released chlorine and an autopsy report is still pending.
Hamilton’s body was sent to Galveston County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Pustilnik’s office.
“We still have not completed that,” a spokeswoman with Pustilnik’s office said Monday. “We had to get medical records from other hospitals and we have all that, but there’s nothing on the case yet.”
Dow reserved comment on OSHA’s findings.
“It would be premature to talk about the details of this at this time,” Copeland said. “Serious is the second from the bottom in regards to severity of violation or citation, with the bottom being the lowest level in this case. I’m confident in Dow’s safety and operation procedures and policies. The company’s focus on employees and the community is strong, and our safety and environmental polices and procedures are outstanding.
“Our heart goes out to the family and co-workers of any employee who passes away,” she said. “They are part of our family, too.”
Charlie Singletary, business manager for Union of Operating Engineers Local 564, is concerned that the chemical industry as a whole is more interested in safety records than the safety of individual workers.
“The union feels that the culture of the petrochemical industry as a whole has been to drive injuries and incidents to zero,” Singletary said. “The employees feel that in doing so, instead of reporting near-misses and accidents, it’s easier to make it go away. We’ve had a pretty good relationship with the Dow Chemical Company over the last several years and hope to maintain that, but we need to seriously look into safety.”
Companies share information industrywide, and Dow employees are urged to report any mishap, Copeland said.
“My experience with Dow is the consequences of not reporting an incident, injury or near-miss far outweigh any consequences of doing so,” she said.
The 10-page citation gives Dow until May 24 to remedy alleged violations.
John Lowman covers industry for The Facts. Contact him at (979)237-0151