When tragedy strikes, one of the first questions that people ask in its wake is “Why?” The urge to understand why something horrible has occurred is deeply human. Not only do we want to make sense of tragedy, we want to internalize information in ways that will allow us to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future. Unfortunately, it seems that when it comes to work safety, Americans are failing to internalize the lessons of tragedies that have occurred before.
Too often, the media reports that fatal accidents have occurred on worksites that have not been adequately inspected. Over the past several years alone, numerous explosions and other fatal incidents have occurred at uninspected plants. And yet, inspection rates are not increasing to a level that allows for the general prevention of similar fatal accidents.
Most recently, four individuals lost their lives while working at a chemical plant that had not been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in seven years. Had OSHA inspected the plant more regularly, the agency may have been able to prevent the methyl mercaptan leak that killed these workers.
It should be odd that OSHA had not returned to inspect this plant in seven years, especially because the plant had been issued two severe safety violations for failure to safely manage highly hazardous chemicals when the plant was last inspected. However, it is tragically not odd. Unsafe working environments all over the U.S. go uninspected for unacceptable lengths of time on a regular basis. And until the government reforms the system or more fully funds OSHA, that reality is unlikely to change.
Source: Think Progress, “Chemical Plant Where 4 Workers Died Hadn’t Had Workplace Safety Inspection In 7 Years,” Bryce Covert, Nov. 17, 2014