Socialist Worker

Texas blast - the deadly result of inspection cuts

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2350

The horrific explosion at a Texan fertiliser plant last week highlights the deadly risks of deregulating health and safety.

At least 14 people died in the explosion.

The Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) last inspected the West Chemical and Fertilizer plant in 1985. 

It was fined £25 for a serious safety violation. It was fined £8,000 by a different agency for unsafe transporting of chemicals just last year.

The plant’s safety record was classified as “average.”

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the firm in a self-assessment form whether they thought their plant posed a risk of explosion.

The company said no.

The EPA had fined the firm £1,000 in 2006 for failing to implement a risk management plan. But self assessment meant they no longer had to have a risk management plan.

West Fertilizer stored 270 tons of ammonium nitrate mixed with other compounds to produce a dry fertiliser.

The same type of fertiliser was mixed with fuel and used in the Oklahoma bombing in 1995. 

The 1993 Bishopsgate bombing by the IRA used one ton of fertiliser. 

Protection of people’s health and safety is flagrantly disregarded outside the US too.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is slashing the number of unannounced workplace inspections because of Tory cuts.

Self assessment

To make up for this, the HSE is encouraging self assessment. 

Bosses get to fill in forms to say if their plant is safe—just like in Texas. Even some of the highest risk firms, covered by HSE’s Hazardous Installations Directorate (HID), are less likely to receive a visit. 

In 2010-11, HID created 3,622 inspection records. By 2011-12 this had fallen to 2,219, a drop of almost 40 percent.

For sites deemed to be less high risk, which include construction, the number of inspections has dropped by 77 percent.

The Tories are also lifting restricting planning regulations. 

That will make it easier to build houses nearer to dangerous plants—as had happened in Texas.

Two nuclear reactors in Hartlepool remained shut after a fire as Socialist Worker went to press.

EDF Energy said an oil leak caused a fire on the lagging of a turbine.

Ten fire engines from Hartlepool and across the region were called to the fire.

The Tories are cutting both the HSE and fire services. This will lead to more accidents and more casualties at those accidents.

That is the real lesson of the Texas explosion.

Workers’ Memorial Day takes place on Sunday 28 April to mark the hundreds of thousands of workplace deaths that occur across the world every year. Go to hazards.org/wmd for more details

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Tue 23 Apr 2013, 18:27 BST
Issue No. 2350
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