Chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board says plants need to improve safety
Chemical makers must do more to prevent careless oversights that have led to a recent increase in fatal errors, the head of a key oversight panel said.
The $720 billion chemical industry makes the building blocks for plastics, electronics, furniture, clothing and dozens of other popular consumer products.
In the last 20 years, the chemical industry has become safer, Rafael Moure-Eraso, chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), told Reuters.
"But we still see very basic things happening, going wrong," he said. "There are errors in the bread-and-butter issues of health and safety."
The independent federal agency investigates deadly accidents at chemical and other industrial facilities, much as its sister organization, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), investigates train and airline crashes.
Its $11 million annual budget is only a tenth of the NTSB's and may be cut further. The relatively small budget means the CSB's 40 employees have to select which cases to investigate.
The CSB's reports, which often take years to complete, are nonbinding. But they are closely followed by industry insiders because they offer blunt assessments of what went wrong and how to prevent a repeat.
In the past year alone, two workers have died as a result of accidents at DuPont and one at Dow Chemical. The companies are among the largest U.S.-based chemical makers.
The CSB is also preparing its own report on what happened last year when Transocean Ltd's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, causing the BP Gulf oil spill.
"The CSB's recommendations do facilitate safety improvements," said Michael Walls of the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group. "We think they've been a valuable resource."
Photo shows August 28, 2008, Bayer CropScience pesticide manufacturing unit explosion in Institute, WV that killed two workers and injured eight others. Credit: CSB