Chemical plants are often dangerous places to work, not only for full-time employees but also for part-time contractors.
A contractor who was replacing pipes at a Celanese Corp. plant in Pasadena, Texas learned that the hard way. According to a new lawsuit, Alfonso Martinez had been told on Jan. 28, 2019 that it was safe for him to remove pipes in question and install new ones. But suddenly, sulfuric acid gushed out, splashing all over his face.
The incident left Martinez with “devastating burns and permanent scarring.”
Although we often encounter people harmed by major disasters at these plants, such as fires and explosions, these more mundane, low-level accidents cause considerable suffering. When you’re working around caustic chemicals, which are liable to burn or poison people, rigorous safety protocols are essential. However, all too often, plant management fails to maintain basic safeguards and follow required checklists, either due to laziness, incompetence, or being stretched too thin by penny-pinching executives.
Martinez claimed he had been told by plant staff that the pipe he was working on had been flushed and cleared and that the valve line was clear of remaining chemicals. But that was not the case.
The contractor accused Celanese and its corporate affiliates of various forms of negligence, including the following:
- failing to properly ensure the pipe was safe to open
- failing to follow appropriate safety protocols
- failing to properly supervise and guide the work at the facility
- failing to provide proper training and supervision
- failing to warn Martinez of dangerous conditions
- failing in ordinary duty of care
He is seeking damages of more than $1 million, including for pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses, physical impairment and disfigurement, as well as interest and exemplary damages.
The chemical industry is especially important in the U.S., which is the largest chemical producing nation in the world. As of 2010, the industry contributed over $226 billion to the country’s GDP and provided at least 1 million jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
It is also one of the greatest contributors to health and safety threats for workers and people living in communities surrounding plants. Many chemicals produced or created as byproducts in plants are known to be linked to increased cancer rates. More immediate injuries can also be easily caused by spills or inhalation of toxic and caustic chemicals.
Another example was an explosion and a fire that occurred at a Celanese chemical plant in Clear Lake, Texas in September 2019. Although no one was injured in the incident, the plastics and resin manufacturing plant was found to have faced previous Occupational Safety and Health Administration sanctions for failing to provide sanitary and reliable protective equipment.
Sulfuric acid is used in various chemical production applications, including in the manufacturing of batteries, fertilizers, explosives, and pharmaceuticals. The extremely caustic and reactive liquid can severely burn skin and eyes, potentially causing blindness. If inhaled in gaseous form, it can cause life-threatening damage to lung tissue. It is also a known carcinogen.
Both full-time and contract workers in chemical plants deserve to be kept safe from the dangers of exposure to these types of agents. If plant managers aren’t taking enough steps to protect their workers, a good lawyer may be able to help.