Posted On: April 25, 2009 by Steven J. Malman

Worker Deaths At Chemical Plant Caused by Human Error

According to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the blast that killed to workers at the Bayer Crop Science Chemical plant in August was caused by human error and management decisions. The federal agency also determined that Bayer had tried to conceal details about the work accident, arguing that portions of the board’s report did not have to be disclosed per antiterrorist legislation. Now, the US Attorney’s Office may conduct an investigation to determine whether Bayer engaged in criminal conduct.

The deadly blast took place on August 28, 2008 at around 10:30pm in the “residue treater” of the unit where the plant manufactures methomyl, a raw material used to make an insecticide called Larvin. The production process that took place that night was unusually hazardous because it was the unit’s first start-up following a three-month shutdown—both procedures can be dangerous. Also, a new computer control system had been installed during the renovation period and Bayer had yet to set up a proper operating procedure or training system.

An undersized heater used for the unit was not creating enough heat. As a result, workers had to deactivate two safety valves so more methomyl could enter the treater in order to generate more heat. Also, workers neglected to add a solvent, which let the methomyl concentration hit dangerous levels. According to the board, the Bayer management’s system failed and let the operators make these decisions. Also, worker fatigue may have been a factor because the two workers who were killed in the blast, 58-year-old Bill Oxley and 45-year-old Barry Withlow, had been regularly working 12- to 18- hour shifts without any time off.

Among the errors and management decisions cited was the violation of safety protocols. Bayer plant manager Nick Crosby said the company is trying to learn from the deadly work incident and has implemented more operational procedures, additional training, safety improvements, and a compliance structure. Chemical safety board chairman John S. Bresland says the Bayer plant is one of the most dangerous chemical plants in the US.

Chemical Plant Injuries
Many chemical accidents are a result of negligence or recklessness actions by the chemical plant owner, the manufacturer of defective machinery, or another liable party. Not only are injured workers likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, but there may be parties that are not the worker’s employer that can be held liable for personal injury or wrongful death.

Safety Panel Cites Errors in Blast at Chemical Plant, New York Times, April 23, 2009

Report Released on Institute Chemical Plant Explosion, WSAZ, April 23, 2009

Related Web Resources:
Bayer Plant Cited for 13 Serious Violations Including Safety,, February 27, 2009

Bayer CropScience

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