After the recent Texas fertilizer plant explosion, many are focused on reassessing workplace safety within chemical plants, oil refineries, fishing rigs, mines, construction sites and other potentially dangerous industrial settings. In 2011, a total of 4,693 American workers were killed while on the job, across all industries, according to a report from AFL-CIO. This works out to approximately 13 fatal accidents each day.
Some are calling for regulatory changes while others favor more proactive self-policing through smarter equipment reliability systems, better education and a more serious attitude toward maintenance. In the state of Texas, for example, there was a particularly high number of industrial accidents in 2011, reported PolitiFact Texas contributor Jim Marston. It has since been determined that many of these accidents could have been prevented if better equipment maintenance, safety conditions and oversight methods were promoted.
"The report showed Texas had 18 of the nation's 143 work fatalities attributed to fires and explosions; 67 of the total 666 from falls, slips and trips; 43 of the 401 caused by exposure to harmful substances or environments; and 66 of 708 deaths resulting from contact with objects and other equipment," explained Marston.
California also had a high number of annual industrial accidents. In 2012, an oil refinery in Richmond, Calif., experienced a problem with a pipe that released a vapor cloud into the air, explained GIMBY. About 15,000 residents sought out medical attention for burning eyes and breathing problems following the incident. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board determined that if the company had better maintenance practices in place or used equipment monitoring, this kind of accident could have been prevented.
"The United States needs to shift the burden of proof, of proving an adequate level of safety, to industry," Michael Wilson, director of University of California, Berkeley's Labor Occupational Health Program, told GIMBY. "We need to put in place what's called a 'safety-case approach', where industry has to demonstrate safety as a condition of operation."