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Changes needed at Chemical Safety Board, advocates charge

Posted on Monday, July 26th, 2021 at 9:23 pm    

WASHINGTON, DC – The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is failing in its task to promptly investigate industrial accidents and make recommendations to prevent future disasters, advocates allege.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the agency currently has 19 uncompleted site investigations, the most open investigations in its history. Four of those site are in Houston, and another three are in other parts of Texas — which means that more than a third of all open investigations concern sites in the Lone Star State. These open investigations include an explosion at Watson Grinding in 2020 that killed two workers, an explosion at KMCO in 2019 that killed one, and a 2018 incident at Kuraray America that injured 21.

Workers unions and environmental groups say that the CSB needs to hire more more investigators and make other changes in order to reduce this backlog. This is particularly important for Texas in general and Houston in particular, which experiences a chemical incident about once every six weeks, according to a 2016 report by the Houston Chronicle.

The CSB has investigated a number of high-profile incidents in Texas in the past two decades, including an explosion at a BP facility in Texas City in 2005, the West Fertilizer explosion of 2013, and a DuPont pesticide factory in La Porte in 2014.

But while the CSB is important in preventing future disasters, it is not a regulatory agency, and its recommendations do not carry the weight of law. It has also seen its influence wane in recent years; by 2018, only 12 investigators worked for the CSB, and the Trump administration repeatedly asked that it be dissolved entirely. Only one person currently sits on its five-member board, although President Biden has made three nominations.

Advocates are urging the current administration to increase funding to the CSB. They’re hopeful that a larger staff will lead to more effective investigations, which will in turn lead to actionable recommendations and fewer workplace injuries and deaths.

This blog post is part of a series that Kherkher Garcia provides for the benefit of our neighbors across the Houston area. It is meant to keep our community informed about ongoing public safety issues, and should not be construed as legal advice. However, if you or someone you love has been injured because of unsafe work conditions, we would like to hear from you at your earliest convenience. Contact us today, online or by calling (713) 231-5640, to speak with an experienced Houston workplace explosion lawyer at absolutely no cost to you.