On November 15, 2014, more than 20,000 pounds of highly toxic methyl mercaptan was released at the E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont) chemical manufacturing facility in La Porte, Texas. The release killed four workers, including three operators and one shift supervisor. The workers died from a combination of asphyxia and acute exposure to methyl mercaptan.
U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board Investigates the La Porte, Texas DuPont Incident—What Does the Investigation Reveal?
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) determined that the cause of the toxic release was (a) flawed engineering design and (b) the lack of adequate safeguards. The CSB determined that other factors that contributed to the incident included “management system deficiencies, including deficiencies in formal process safety culture assessments, auditing and corrective actions, troubleshooting operations, management of change, safe work practices, shift communications, building ventilation design, toxic gas detection, and emergency response.” The commented that “Weaknesses in the DuPont La Porte safety management systems resulted from a culture at the facility that did not effectively support strong process safety performance.” The CSB noted the following key findings:
- DuPont did not effectively respond to a toxic chemical release;
- DuPont’s corporate process safety management system did not ensure that DuPont La Porte implemented and maintained an effective process safety management system; and
- DuPont La Porte did not assess its culture for process safety in the site’s Safety Perception Surveys or any other formal assessment program, allowing serious process safety deficiencies to exist at the site.
U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board Provides DuPont with Guidance
The CSB provided DuPont with the following guidance following the November 15, 2014 toxic chemical release incident:
- Companies should ensure that employees understand the hazards of chemicals that they are working with and may be potentially exposed to if there is a release. Where there are multiple hazardous chemicals, such as methyl isocyanate (MIC) and methyl mercaptan, it is important that companies effectively train workers on the hazards of each chemical at their facility. Furthermore, companies should train workers who handle multiple highly toxic chemicals, such as methyl mercaptan and MIC, to treat these chemicals with equal importance. This training is important for workers to help ensure they have a working knowledge of the relevant chemical hazards.
- Automatic alarms designed to alert personnel of hazardous conditions—such as a release of a toxic chemical or the existence of an explosive atmosphere—can relay critical safety information immediately to personnel, without the potential delays inherent in a system that relies solely on a control room operator to communicate safety alarms verbally to operators in the field.
- Specific technical knowledge from unit experts—including technical and operations personnel—can be invaluable to the incident commander in an emergency at a chemical processing facility. Companies need to ensure that these individuals are preidentified as technical support personnel and that backup capability is available in the event the primary technical support personnel become unavailable.
- Plant emergency procedures should clearly outline the alerting and notification protocols for different types of plant emergencies. These procedures should also include guidance for situations in which there is insufficient initial information to effectively assess the nature of the problem and the level of emergency response team resources required.
- Even though industrial facilities may infrequently call upon emergency response vehicles, it is essential that those vehicles function as intended when needed. To ensure emergency vehicle reliability, companies must develop and apply regular maintenance and testing schedules for their emergency response vehicles.
- Companies need a reliable means for emergency response teams to characterize hazardous atmospheres. Companies should provide air monitoring equipment to emergency response teams and train those teams on how to operate the equipment and interpret monitoring results. At facilities that assign the inspection, maintenance, and storage of portable air monitoring equipment to personnel who are not members of the emergency response team, the company should ensure that team members know where the equipment is stored and can access it.
- High-hazard areas should be equipped with adequate detectors, alarms, and surveillance technology to identify whether there is a chemical release (or other type of emergency) and if personnel are affected.
- Companies need to develop a system to update emergency planning documents when pertinent hazards are identified. Changes to emergency planning documents should be effectively communicated to the site emergency response team.
- Chemical facilities should ensure that their emergency response plans include maps showing the layout of buildings containing hazardous chemicals, for use by emergency responders and to aid evacuation and rescue efforts. Facilities should also coordinate regularly scheduled site tours for both plant and external emergency responders to develop strong working relationships and help ensure responders are familiar with facility access points, hazards, emergency response issues, and site or facility layout. Additionally, facilities should familiarize responders with process structures or buildings by having periodic drills inside them, to improve responder navigation during emergencies. To enhance responder performance, members of an emergency response team should train together, especially when multiple companies are staffing a single, integrated team.
- When a process safety incident occurs, such as a chemical release, it can be beneficial for technical personnel who are not immediately involved in emergency response functions to analyze process data to assess the source, scope, and magnitude of the incident. This analysis can help the company (and the incident commander) identify needed equipment manipulations to stop or control the incident, such as shutting down pumps or closing isolation valves.
- Companies should ensure emergency response team members are trained to (1) physically designate the hot zone; (2) communicate the location of the hot zone and entry control points to all personnel assisting with the emergency response, including operations personnel; and (3) control entry and exit points of the hot zone.
- Dispersion modeling of chemical releases can be an effective risk-based emergency response tool, but its results are highly dependent on accurate input data. During an emergency, it can sometimes be difficult to obtain an accurate release rate, limiting the accuracy of resulting models. Companies should not rely on unsupported data when making critical emergency response decisions, such as those affecting workers, members of the public, or people or property in the surrounding area. In emergencies that could affect the public and in which chemical release rates cannot be accurately estimated (for model input), written guidelines for how and when to alert the public should be available to emergency responders. As better information about the release becomes available, the public protection zone can be adjusted accordingly.
- Monitoring for hazardous gases along the fence line at chemical facilities can help companies understand the extent of a release. This monitoring can be performed by fixed detectors, which can continually collect and record data, providing early notification of releases outside the property. When fixed detectors are not available, a person using a portable gas detector may also perform air This strategy, however, introduces additional risk because that individual may enter a hazardous environment unknowingly. Proper personal protective equipment, including respiratory protection, is needed during manual air monitoring operations.
- Employing any particular management system on its own, without additional work aimed at successful implementation, may not be sufficient to prevent major chemical Companies should conduct periodic comprehensive assessments of their process safety management systems and their implementation of these systems at established intervals to evaluate and identify opportunities to strengthen their systems’ effectiveness.
- Companies should ensure that when a process safety management system changes, their sites update their programs simultaneously and adhere to those The ability to adapt quickly to industry trends and field learnings can be beneficial. To maximize the value of improvements, companies should consider reevaluating sites to ensure consistency with evolving practices.
- Companies should invest time and resources to conduct These resources should be used to ensure that audits are robust and comprehensive.
- Personal safety performance and process safety performance are two different safety measures that all chemical process facilities should Personal injury statistics are not an effective gauge of the quality of process safety management systems or process safety culture.
- Companies should have a process in place to ensure that hazard scenarios are fully developed and that process hazard analysis (PHA) teams assign appropriate initiating event frequencies and consequence severities to the scenario because it can make a significant difference in safeguard Additionally, PHA teams need to ensure that the safeguards applied to the hazard scenario are relevant and effective in controlling the hazard.
- Companies should ensure before corrective actions are closed that the intent of a recommendation is One way to make the intention of the recommendation the focus of a corporate or site action is to evaluate the substance of the corrective action in addition to the time it takes to complete the action.
- Companies should develop an action plan to identify and control hazards during troubleshooting There are multiple approaches a company can take to address troubleshooting, including PHAs, operating procedures, management of change (MOC) procedures, and safe work practices.
- Companies should always use MOCs where required by corporate policy or federal safety regulations (OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard or the EPA’s Risk Management Plan rule). Special attention should be paid to nonroutine or abnormal operations because there may be issues with safety systems, equipment, procedures, or personnel practices that can create additional hazards, potentially leading to serious safety incidents if there are poor management of change practices. MOC reviewers should be thoughtful and comprehensive, so potential dangers can be avoided or mitigated.
- Companies should recognize that nonroutine operations such as line breaking—even with established permit processes—can represent significant potential dangers. One way to help ensure that personnel understand the permit process is to train them on the different scenarios that would trigger a linebreaking permit. Companies should analyze recurring operational or safety issues that trigger permits and eliminate their underlying causes. In instances requiring repeated line breaking, for example, a hazard analysis should be performed, and an engineering solution should be applied (following an effective MOC) to avoid recurrence of the hazard.
- Effective communication between different operational units at a facility, and between supervisors and workers on changing shifts, is critical to safety. Communications are essential to convey the status of operations, any ongoing changes, abnormalities, unusual operating conditions, or other relevant issues associated with chemical process equipment. The more complex the process involved, the more of an imperative exists to ensure that communication is effective. Reliance solely upon one form of communication, especially verbal communication, can leave the workforce vulnerable to potential gaps in information communicated, misunderstandings, or the absence of critical information in what oftentimes can be an evolving situation.
- Employee incentive programs that reduce bonuses to employees based upon the number of recordable injuries—or other similar metric—can create a disincentive for workers to report injuries or incidents. Understanding how incidents occur can be beneficial in preventing future worker injuries and strengthening process safety management systems. Some safety incentive programs, however, may create a culture of nonreporting of safety incidents, potentially hampering learning from the underlying events, possibly resulting in a failure to address the causes of the incident. If employees do not feel free to report workplace injuries, incidents, or near misses, the employer’s entire workforce is put at risk. Ensuring that employees can report injuries or other process safety management system deficiencies is therefore central to protecting worker safety and health and aiding accident prevention.
What Are the High Risk Industries Where Chemical Exposure Occurs?
People working around chemical should reasonably expect that the environment they are working in is reasonably safe and free of hazards, which includes reducing the risk of exposure to chemical hazards and toxic substances. When precautions to prevent chemical exposure are not taken, they put workers at risk of serious injury or even death. Dangerous chemicals are used in a variety of industries, some of the most at risk include:
- Chemical plants
What Should I Do If I Have Been Involved in a Chemical Exposure Incident
You should call an attorney and get advice. The experienced Chemical Exposure lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard LLP can evaluate your case and explain the type of claim you can pursue.
We are committed to helping victims of chemical exposure. With the help of our experienced Chemical Exposure lawyers, you may be able to recover financial compensation for your past and future:
- Medical costs
- Loss of earning capacity
- Physical limitations
- Physical pain
- Mental anguish
- Loss of consortium