Friday chemical safety round-up

Chemical health and safety news from the past week:

  • On the general worker safety front, a panel investigating the explosion at a coal mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners last year released its report this week. Ken Ward at the Charleston Gazette undoubtedly has the most extensive coverage–see both his newspaper stories and the Coal Tattoo blog. Chapter 12 of the report, Normalization of Deviance, certainly provides food for thought on worker safety across industries–and in academia, too:

    “Normalization of deviance” refers to a gradual process through which unacceptable practices or standards become acceptable. As the deviant behavior is repeated without catastrophic results, it becomes the social norm for the organization. Individuals who challenge the norm – from within the organization or outside it – are considered nuisances or even threats. …

    Many systems created to safeguard miners had to break down in order for an explosion of this magnitude to occur. The ventilation system had to be inadequate; there had to be a huge buildup of coal dust to carry the explosion; there had to be inadequate rock dusting so that the explosiveness of the coal dust would not be diluted; there had to be a failure to maintain machinery; there had to be a breakdown in the fireboss system through which unsafe conditions are identified and corrected. Any of these failures would have been problematic. Together they created a perfect storm within the Upper Big Branch mine, an accident waiting to happen.

    Such total and catastrophic systemic failures can only be explained in the context of a culture in which wrongdoing became acceptable, where deviation became the norm. In such a culture it was acceptable to mine coal with insufficient air; with buildups of coal dust; with inadequate rock dust. The same culture allowed Massey Energy to use its resources to create a false public image to mislead the public, community leaders and investors – the perception that the company exceeded industry safety standards. And it became acceptable to cast agencies designed to protect miners as enemies and to make life difficult for miners who tried to address safety. It is only in the context of a culture bent on production at the expense of safety that these obvious deviations from decades of known safety practices make sense.

  • UK company Solvent Resource Management was fined US $240,000 for spilling 340 tons of solvent and contaminated wastewater when a corroded tank “collapsed” in March, 2009

Fires and explosions:

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

Not covered: meth labs, ammonia leaks, and incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. I suspect the organic matter issue is that the native microorganisms consume the organic material and use oxygen during that consumption, thus depriving larger aquatic organisms of the needed 02.

  2. @CJ – That’s what I was thinking–thanks for fleshing out the thought for me!