The West Fertilizer Company facility that exploded in a deadly blast Wednesday evening had not been inspected by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in at least 10 years. While we leave it to investigators to determine what exactly happened, we already know that this facility and ones like it operate with very little oversight, and that this is a problem.

Records show that the facility in West, Texas, owned by Adair Grain Incorporated, has not been inspected by OSHA in the past 10 years.

In the past five years, only two Texas facilities in the same classification – that produce fertilizer using ammonia – have been inspected by OSHA, records show. The agency, with a budget of roughly $568 million, lacks the resources to regularly inspect these types of facilities, including the many with high danger levels. Often facilities do not see an inspector for decades at a time.

While OSHA’s budget had increased slightly in the past several years, it was recently reduced yet again by budget sequestration, which means fewer inspectors to monitor facilities like the West Fertilizer Company. Small budgets also make it even harder for the agency to issue new safety standards. The agency’s budget is similar to what it was several decades ago, but the size of the economy – and the number and complexity of workplaces to inspect – has grown tremendously.

Though total occupational deaths are far lower today than they were decades ago, more than 4,000 workers still die every year on the job in the United States, most in incidents that could have been prevented. Last night’s tragic explosion in Texas is a reminder of the work still ahead to make our nation’s workplaces safer.

Devoting only a miniscule portion of our budget to protecting workers is a policy choice – and it’s the wrong one.

Keith Wrightson is Public Citizen’s workplace safety expert. Keep up with Public Citizen’s workplace health and safety work by following @SafeWorkers on Twitter.

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Comments

  • It’s hard to walk a line between too much government oversight (everyone loves to hate big gov’t) and too little. Seems like we’re currently on the too little side, and if money isn’t dedicated to field inspectors (preferably who know what they’re doing), then we can expect more of the same. Luck held this time and the two schools that adjoined the plant were not occupied. Will it take an incident with dead children to spur movement??

  • jean westler

    Why do we have OSHA if they don’t have the resources to police these industries/factories? And why do factories using dangerous materials and processes need to be “policed?” I’d suggest the city, state, and anyone else involved in the cleanup sue the company for costs. Further, the people involved, dead and alive, certainly are entitled to repatriation. This was a deliberate act by a company to ignore the safety of the people and environment in which it operates. Maybe these types of companies should be required to post high bonds before being allowed to operate. That would reduce their ignoring of safety factors, I’m sure. Only money talks, especially in our good old USA.

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