Feds Assign Blame In 2013 Plant Explosion

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) ruled that workplace safety deficiencies at the Williams Olefins Plant in Geismar, Louisiana caused an explosion that killed two workers.

Specifically, according to the CSB, in the dozen years prior to the incident, management neglected issues with a over-pressure reboiler, which ultimately ruptured. The facility normally employs about 110 people, but roughly 800 people were onsite at that time, as contractors worked to expand the petrochemical plant. At the time, the reboiler was offline and not hooked up to its pressure-relief device, so the heat build-up lead to a BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion) and subsequent fire. Most of the 169 casualties (two dead and 167 seriously injured) were contractors.

In announcing the findings, CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said that “The tragic accident at Williams was preventable and therefore unacceptable. This report provides important safety lessons that we urge other companies to review and incorporate within their own facilities.”

Workplace Safety and Non-Employees

Even if workers are not classified as “employees” for income tax purposes, they may still be “employees” for workers’ compensation purposes.

An employer cannot avoid liability in certain areas by using temporary workers and then claiming that it had no control over these workers. In Louisiana, the client company and employment agency are joint employers in several areas, including workers’ compensation. There are a few exceptions, but this rule applies in most cases. Moreover, if the National Labor Relations Board’s new joint employer rule is upheld, this liability may become a matter of federal law.

Moreover, employers cannot intentionally misclassify workers as “independent contractors” to avoid liability for workplace safety deficiencies. In making such determinations, courts often look to the amount of control that the employer has over the injured victim. Generally speaking, if the employer provides training, controls how the work is done, provides equipment, and pays the worker by the hour as opposed to by the job, such independent contractors are normally employees for workers’ compensation purposes.

Covered Workplace Safety Injuries

Workers’ compensation provides coverage for many different types of injuries that occur on the job, including:

  • Trauma Injuries: Broken bones, severe burns, and head injuries are just a few of the wounds that result from sudden incidents, such as electrocutions, motor vehicle crashes, or falls.
  • Occupational Diseases: Repetitive stress disorder, joint pain, and other maladies occur over the course of more than one shift, largely because the employer does not provide sufficient workplace safety.

Victims are entitled to no-fault insurance benefits that pays for economic losses, including medical bills, lost wages, medical devices, physical rehabilitation, and other out-of-pocket expenses. In some cases, victims may sue outside workers’ compensation and obtain additional benefits.

Sooner or later, workplace safety deficiencies cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with Lee Hoffoss or another experienced personal injury attorney in Lake Charles, contact Hoffoss Devall. Home and hospital visits are available.