September 15, 2009 The Pump Handle 0Comment

The Associated Press is reporting that urgent recommendations proposed by the Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) hands-on investigators of the ConAgra Slim Jim factory explosion, which killed three workers in June 2009, were rejected by the CSB’s Board.  The AP story reads:

“Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that staff members of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board wanted the agency to immediately distribute a safety bulletin and recommendations, saying the June blast exposed weaknesses in nationwide standards.  The staff proposed guidelines that would require more controls on how workers handle gas-line purges.  Two of the four board members voted down the idea last month, saying code writers should be the ones to decide on new guidelines, not the safety board.”

The Board members’ preference for a hands-off approach makes me wonder what the late Carolyn Merritt would say about the CSB’s decision.  As CSB Chair, she was known for challenging the status quo and using the CSB’s authority to promote high duties of care and performance.

The AP story goes on:

“The decision frustrated safety advocates who have been following the plant explosion. Tom O’Connor, executive director of the advocacy group National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, said he believes the four board members, all appointed during the administration of President George W. Bush, opposed the recommendations because of an ideological opposition to over-regulation.  ‘It’s hard for me to understand that it’s even controversial,’ O’Connor said. ‘It seems like this ought to be a no-brainer.'”

“O’Connor said his group hasn’t spent much time pushing for replacements on the White House-appointed board, but he said the latest vote indicates to him that advocates need to get the issue before President Barack Obama.”

Likewise, the United Food and Commerical Workers Union, which represents workers at the Slim Jim plant was outraged to learn of the CSB Board’s rejection of the expert staff’s recommendation.  From the same AP story:

“‘It’s outrageous that anybody would vote against protecting the safety of workers, especially when the recommendations were as simple as, ‘You shouldn’t have people in the room when there’s natural gas being pumped into it,’ said Corey Owens, spokesman for the UFCW. “These commissioners that voted against it need to seriously reconsider their commitment to mission of the chemical safety board.'”

Indeed, it’s time for the Obama Administration to fill the long-vacant seat on the Board and have a new Board member on deck to immediately fill the Commission Gary Visscher’s spot when his term expires in November.

The Pump Handle has offered readers two posts about exceptional candidates for the CSB Board: Anthony Robbins, MD, MPH and Mark Griffon.    Both know first-hand that waiting for “code-writers” from voluntary standards organizations may have been the standard answer during the hands-off G.W. Bush years, but it’s not the way to proactively advance workers’ and communities’ health and safety.

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