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Arkema’s Texas site has history of workplace safety issues

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A Harris County, Texas, chemical facility that flooded due to Tropical Storm Harvey and experienced two explosions has a history of workplace safety violations.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based Arkema Inc.’s Crosby, Texas, facility for 10 serious safety violations — nine of which were related to OSHA’s standard for process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals — after opening an inspection in August 2016. The agency initially proposed penalties totaling $107,918 — an amount reduced to $91,724 in February after an informal settlement conference and company abatement activities, according to agency documents.

It is premature to speculate if any of the identified hazards in this inspection contributed to the explosion, according to OSHA.

Arkema President and CEO Rich Rowe apologized during a Friday press conference to everyone affected by the situation at the Crosby plant, including employees who stayed on-site until ordered to leave the facility by emergency responders establishing an evacuation zone within a 1.5-mile radius from the plant. Employees had shut down all operations on Aug. 25 prior to the hurricane’s landfall; a small “ride-out” crew was left on-site to address situations arising during the storm, but they were evacuated this Tuesday for their safety, according to the company.

“I’ve heard it said that Arkema abandoned the plant, but I know we did not do that,” he said to the company’s employees. “You did everything in your power to safely secure the site, and you left when you were ordered to leave both for your safety and the safety of our emergency responders.”

During the question-and-answer session, the Arkema CEO was asked about a long history of safety violations at the plant, some of which the company has previously denied.

“We don’t have a perfect record,” he said. “We understand that. We strive to get better at every turn and will continue to do so, and we hope that through how we handle experiences and matters like this that the perception of the community will only get better. The performance of the plant from a safety perspective has certainly improved. We are open. We’re transparent. When we have audits from regulatory authorities, we deal with the issues that are raised.”

Separately, OSHA previously cited Arkema’s Houston facility for 12 serious, one repeat and one other-than-serious violations for exposing workers to multiple safety hazards while producing organic chemicals. That facility faced proposed penalties totaling $117,100, according to an OSHA press release dated July 11, 2012. However, three serious citations were deleted and the total fines reduced to $76,370 after adjustment by OSHA’s national office and review by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Arkema has also been cited for safety violations at its facilities in other states. For example, a 2012 inspection at its Lemont, Illinois, facility resulted in nine violations and $16,588 in penalties — an amount lowered after an informal settlement conference from the $46,750 initially assessed.