DuPont Fined More for Texas Deaths, Named ‘Severe Violator’

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DuPont Co. was placed in a U.S. Department of Labor program for “severe” violators of workplace safety rules and was fined for more alleged infringements after the deaths of four workers last year at a Texas herbicide factory.

The proposed fines of $273,000 are for eight violations -- three “willful,” one “repeat” and four “serious” -- found at DuPont’s plant in La Porte, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a statement Thursday. The fines are in addition to $99,000 levied in May for nine violations related to the November deaths, OSHA said.

OSHA placed DuPont in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which devotes additional resources to inspect companies with a “demonstrated indifference toward creating a safe and healthy workplace.” Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ellen Kullman early in her career led the creation of a safety consulting business at the company.

“DuPont promotes itself as having a ‘world-class safety’ culture and even markets its safety expertise to other employers, but these four preventable workplace deaths and the very serious hazards we uncovered at this facility are evidence of a failed safety program,” Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels said in the statement.

A worker at the plant was overcome when a supply line released more than 20,000 pounds of methyl mercaptan, a deadly chemical. Three more were asphyxiated by the colorless gas when they came to his aid in a failed rescue attempt. The latest fines stem from expanded inspections at the plant, OSHA said.

Plant Shutdown

DuPont is “disappointed” with its inclusion in the Severe Violator program as the company has worked to continuously improve its safety procedures since they were first implemented more than 200 years ago, said Dan Turner, a DuPont spokesman.

DuPont has shut the herbicide unit to fix any problems and will work with OSHA to better understand the latest citations and any additional abatement needed, he said.

“We believe we have identified and are addressing most if not all of OSHA’s significant findings,” Turner said in a e-mailed statement. “We have and will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure all units are safe to operate.”

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