Worries about fires, explosions and chemical releases prompted the federal agency in charge of workplace safety on Wednesday to expand a special inspection program focusing on the nation’s chemical plants. Regulators believe the industry is particularly vulnerable to such hazards, meriting the closer attention.
Yet some plants will continue to be shielded from the special inspections, despite past worker deaths, because of their status as “model workplaces.”
“Far too many workers are injured and killed in preventable incidents at chemical facilities around the country,” said David Michaels, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in announcing the broadening of the pilot program, which began in 2009.
Michaels said inspectors would “cover chemical facilities nationwide to ensure that all required measures are taken to protect workers.”
But the agency opted to exempt sites that participate in its Voluntary Protection Programs, known as VPP. As iWatch News has reported, more than 80 workers have died since 2000 at these sites OSHA has deemed “model workplaces” – from power plants to paper mills and shipyards.
Companies, however, have rarely faced serious consequences, even when inspectors identified safety violations related to the fatal accident.
The exemption from regular inspections, including those conducted under special emphasis programs, has particular resonance for companies in the chemical manufacturing industry, which is both the target of the new initiative and the largest industry sector in VPP.