Deadly Texas Explosion: No OSHA Inspections at Texas Fertilizer Plant in 5 Years
Smoke seen rising about half a mile from the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, on April 18, 2013.
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Editor's note: The following is a transcript of a Democracy Now! report on the deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant that levelled an entire town.
In the wake of the deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant, reporter Mike Elk of In These Times magazine joins us to discuss the plant’s safety record and the troubling regulatory environmentfor workplaces in Texas and nationwide. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not inspected West Fertilizer Co. in five years, and the EPA fined the plant in 2006 for failing to have a risk management plan. Elk says OSHA is understaffed and underfunded nationwide, across all industries.
MIKE ELK: Yeah. So, basically, what’s interesting about this plant is, in the idea of workplace safety, we often talk about the idea of hazards, which is, you identify hazards, and you attempt to try to reduce the ability that those hazards result in accidents like the explosion we saw yesterday. Now, the story that The Dallas Morning News reported, that the plant said that there was no risk of explosion, shows that they did not properly identify the hazard, which led to the explosion, as we all know occurred. This is a big problem.
This kind of plant here, we can tell from the records that we were looking over last night, OSHA has not inspected this plant in at least five years. And that’s not uncommon. This is a non-union facility. The way OSHA typically works, and as well as EPA, is that they get a call from a worker, and then inspectors show up, and they inspect the plant, and they find problems. When you have a non-union workforce, like you have in this plant, that’s a lot less likely, since many folks are scared of losing their jobs. So there hasn’t been an inspection in at least five years, from what we can tell.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the general problem of workplace safety and the government’s ability to inspect plants, for especially catastrophic accidents or accidents that take lives?
MIKE ELK: Yeah. So, every year in the United States, 4,500 Americans die a year in workplace accidents. And yet we only spend approximately $550 million on OSHA’s budget to prevent workplace accidents—on OSHA’s total budget. And when you think about that, when you think about the fact 4,500 Americans die a year in workplace accidents and we only spend $500 million, and then you compare that to the hundreds of billions we spend overseas protecting Americans from acts of terrorism, it seems like there’s some misplaced priorities. At least that’s what workplace safety advocates would say. If you look at OSHA’s budget, OSHA is so severely understaffed. There are 2,200 inspectors in this country, OSHA inspectors, for eight million workplaces. Due to the understaffing of OSHA, OSHAcould inspect a plant once every 129 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. I wanted to read you a quote of Rick Perry, Texas governor, an interview he did just April 9th withNewsmax. He said, "The men and women in Texas know something now after a decade-plus of our governorship and our policies being implemented by a Republican House, Senate, lieutenant governor and speaker. We’ve kept our tax burden as light as we could and still delivered the services that the people of Texas desire, and we have a regulatory climate that is fair and predictable. I cannot tell you how important is predictability and stability in the regulatory climate." Your response, Mike Elk?