News Release

Deadly Texas Explosion: Key Facts


Reuters reports: “A deadly explosion and fire tore through a fertilizer plant in a small Texas town late on Wednesday, injuring more than 100 people, leveling dozens of homes and spewing toxic fumes that forced evacuations of half the community, authorities said. They said an undetermined number of people had been killed, and that the death toll was expected to rise as search teams combed through the rubble of the West Fertilizer Co. plant and surrounding homes.”

Elk is a labor reporter for In These Times magazine. Today he highlighted a series of critical facts about the Texas plant and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration: “Due to understaffing, OSHA can only inspect plants like the one in West, Texas once every 129 years.

“The U.S. spends $558 million a year on OSHA and 4,500 Americans a year on average die in workplace accidents — far more than die as a result of terrorism — and we spend hundreds of billions a year on that.

“The maximum fine for committing a safety violation that leads to a workers death is $7,000. The maximum jail time for a willful safety violation resulting in a death of a worker is six months in jail. Since 1970, 360,000 Americans have been killed on the job, but yet there have only been 84 criminal prosecutions.

“Following a GAO report showing that OSHA took five times as long as SEC to issue a rule, Sen. Tom Harkin criticized Obama for the very slow pace of workplace safety rules which have been held up by the White House.”

Elk also criticized the Obama administration’s policies on these issues: “In the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010 that killed 29 miners for the first time in U.S. history, no safety legislation was passed to fix the problems. The enforcement of safety laws was so lax that in the year leading up to the mine explosion the mine was cited for 458 safety violations.

“For nearly two years now, the White House Office of Management and Budget has blocked from public review workplace safety rules proposed by OSHA concerning cancer-causing silicia dust. Federal rules state that OMB can only block these rules from public consideration for 90 days.”

Additionally, Elk noted: “In February, there was a fire at the fertilizer plant which caused it to be evacuated. The plant is non-union and it should be noted that non-union Texas has the highest rate of workplace deaths of any state in the country.”