Industrial Accidents Get No Play #west

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Did you hear the news that fifteen people died in a fertilizer fire in Texas?

It’s a huge tragedy. From Slate:

Around 7:30 p.m. on April 17, a fire broke out at the West Chemical and Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, a small town of about 2,800 people 75 miles south of Dallas. Twenty minutes later, it blew up. The explosion shook houses 50 miles away and was so powerful that the United States Geological Survey registered it as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake. It flattened homes within a five-block radius and destroyed a nursing home, an apartment complex, and a nearby middle school. According to the New York Times, the blast left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep, and the fire “burned with such intensity that railroad tracks were fused.” The blast killed at least 15 people, most of them firefighters and other first responders.

Further reporting from Slate suggests that the plant was pretty dangerous.

[The plant] hadn’t been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. Its owners do not seem to have told the Department of Homeland Security that they were storing large quantities of potentially explosive fertilizer, as regulations require. And the most recent partial safety inspection of the facility in 2011 led to $5,250 in fines.

I found myself wondering why the media hasn’t covered this horrible tragedy and the negligence leading up to this event. And why haven’t more HR bloggers been outraged by the lack of safety training and compliance — basic tenets of every HR job?

But industrial accidents get no play.

I am not cynical about safety, though. I have worked as a Human Resources professional in numerous chemical facilities and I cannot remember a time when safety wasn’t on the minds of each and every single one of our leaders and supervisors. And I was taught by great HR people that safety can be a driver towards profitability. Paul O’Neill’s tenure at Alcoa is an excellent example of what happens when someone says that “safety matters” and means it.

Even though industrial accidents get no play, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can lobby our representatives to end sequestration. We can push for more staff and more budget for the CSB. We can write to shows like 60 Minutes and Rock Center and demand more coverage.

Me? I want some journalist to share the names and addresses of the executives who thought it was okay to take a risk — and kill first responders and innocent workers — in the name of profit.

And then I’d like to see those executives go to jail.

At this point, a criminal investigation seems like the only justice for those fifteen souls.

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