Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a warning to the petrochemical and energy industries today, prompted by the deaths of 58 workers in just the last four months. Eleven of those deaths occurred when the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20.
Fifteen days prior to the BP oil rig disaster, 29 miners were killed in a West Virginia coal mine explosion. That mine is owned by Massey Energy, another company with a long and troubled history of federal safety violations.
In testimony before a congressional panel on workplace safety, Barab said that these worker deaths have occurred “even as OSHA continues to deal with the ramifications of the 2005 fire and explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 others.”
Barab told the panel that all of these tragedies reveal that “the status quo is not working,” and that although many of the deaths don’t fall under OSHA’s jurisdiction, they nonetheless point to the fundamental problems in workplace safety “that OSHA must help address.”
“This cycle of workers being hurt or killed because their employers failed to implement well-known safety measures points out major deficiencies in chemical process safety management in the nation’s refineries and, quite possibly, to systemic safety and health problems in the entire petrochemical industry,” Barab said, providing examples of workplace deaths and injuries that occurred clearly because employers failed to enforce safety standards or were too slow to fix known problems.
“I have been deeply frustrated by these results,” Barab told the panel, explaining that more than a year ago, OSHA had sent a letter to every petroleum refinery manager in the country to inform them of frequently cited hazards.
“Yet, a year later, our inspectors are still finding the same problems in too many facilities,” Barab said. According to OSHA, “almost all of the catastrophic incidents that have killed so many workers were caused by failures that industry executives and facility managers knew how to prevent. They were repeats of earlier mishaps, from which lessons should have been learned.”
Barab said that the initiative to improve workplace safety had to start at the top with each corporation’s executive leadership. “Industry must do a better job of institutionalizing systems for learning from mistakes, so it does not continue to repeat the same mistakes at the expense of workers’ lives,” he added.
To read Barab’s full statement before the committee and his proposal for improving OSHA’s enforcement of safety regulations, click here.