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OSHA levies slap-on-the-wrist penalties against DuPont

The public continues to hear more information about the fatal methyl mercaptan leak at the DuPont plant in LaPorte, Texas. As we've discussed in previous posts, the leak resulted in the fatal asphyxiation of four workers in November 2014.

OSHA investigated the accident and levied $99,000 in civil penalties against DuPont. While that amount may be a lot of money for an individual, the total amount of penalties is far less likely to deter an international, billion-dollar company like DuPont from committing future safety violations.

When OSHA categorizes a safety violation as "serious" instead of "willful," the "serious" violation is penalized less severely than if it had been a "willful" violation. A "willful" violation occurs when an employer is indifferent to employee safety or intentionally disregards the law. None of the violations that led to the chemical leak in LaPorte was deemed by OSHA to be "willful" or more than "serious."

A recent article in the Houston Chronicle has more on the specific safety violations cited by OSHA. The civil penalties for the violations amount to a slap on the wrist for DuPont.

The families of the victims have brought civil lawsuits against the company. In many cases, filing a civil lawsuit may be the only way for an injured worker or a grieving family to receive compensation after an industrial accident. When an employer's gross negligence or recklessness results in injury or death to workers, the employer should be held accountable, perhaps especially when the fines levied against the employer seem minor in context.

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