WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary Lynn Martin announced Thursday that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will collect a record $10-million fine against the Angus Chemical Co. and IMC Fertilizer Inc., operators of a fertilizer plant near Sterlington, La., where an explosion killed eight workers and injured 120 others on May 1.
OSHA, in exchange for securing the record $10-million fine, will not accuse the companies of "willful," or intentional, wrongdoing. In the past, OSHA has been criticized for dropping those characterizations of violations because doing so makes it harder for survivors to win civil cases against plant operators.
The Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union called the settlement a "sweetheart" deal that makes great headlines for the Labor Department but does little to protect workers.
At a news conference, however, Martin and OSHA director Gerard Scannell dismissed the complaint.
Martin said the quick settlement will allow for the immediate implementation of improved worker safety programs by Angus and IMC Fertilizer, at the Louisiana plant and at another one in New Wales, Fla.
"The settlement neither excuses nor justifies the violations found by OSHA in its investigation of this needless tragedy," Martin said. "They can't be justified; they will not be excused."
Under the agreement, Angus and IMC Fertilizer will evaluate their plants and identify hazardous locations where the threat of fire or explosion is greatest, take corrective action and then document it. Employees have to be involved, under the OSHA agreement.
OSHA said an investigation found that IMC Fertilizer had allegedly exposed 223 employees to the risk of fire and explosion.