How OSHA’s West Fertilizer fine stacks up against others


After the Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed $118,300 in fines last week for West Fertilizer and its owner Adair Grain, The Dallas Morning News wanted to see how that fine compared to other OSHA fines. We analyzed the agency’s 56,800 fatality/catastrophe inspections since 2001.

When OSHA found wrongdoing and decided to fine a company, it proposed an average fine of $12,836 before any negotiations or appeals. The agency actually collected an average of $6,010.

Many of the top 25 fines in OSHA’s history are large industrial explosions, usually resulting in multiple deaths, which may be a better comparison to West than the general average. The West explosion, which killed 15 people and injured 300, however, is nowhere close to OSHA’s five largest fines:

1. 2005 BP Texas City explosion, killed 15, injured 170: $84 million in proposed fines

2. 2010 Connecticut power plant explosion, killed six, injured 50: $16.6 million in total proposed fines

3. 1991 IMC Fertilizer/Angus Chemical explosion, killed eight, injured 120: $11.5 million in proposed fines

4. 2008 Imperial Sugar explosion, killed 13, hospitalized 40: $8.8 million in proposed fines

5. 1995 Samsung Guam employee fell from high elevation, killed one: $8.3 million in proposed fines

In fact, OSHA fined West Fertilizer 70 percent of the maximum allowed by law for the number and severity of violations alleged, $118,300 out of a maximum $168,000 fine.

OSHA cited West Fertilizer for 24 serious violations, according to Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who announced the fine. Serious violations, according to OSHA, are workplace hazards that could cause an accident resulting in death or serious physical harm and have a maximum penalty of $7,000 per violation.

One more way to look at the fine is to examine five other similarly-sized fines:

1. 2004 Bilfinger Berger Civil, Inc. crane accident, killed four: $280,000 in proposed fines

2. 2001 Motiva Enterprises explosion, killed one, injured six: $259,000 in proposed fines

3. 2011 Bath Iron Works fall hazards, killed none: $171,300 in proposed fines

4. 1995 Napp Technologies explosion, killed five, injured eight: $127,000 in proposed fines, which would’ve been larger, according to OSHA, if not for a technicality

5. 1997 Qualicon Corporation drownings, killed four: $125,000 in proposed fines

It’s worth noting that fines aren’t proportional to loss of life, but reflective of what problems inspectors find. One of the reasons why the West Fertilizer is not facing a far greater fine is the difference between serious and willful violations. OSHA inspectors found 24 serious violations, but no willful violations. Willful violations imply negligence because the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a safety requirement or acted with plain indifference to employee safety. Willful violations carry a maximum penalty of $70,000.

If you want to see more of The Morning News’ coverage of West six months after the explosion, you can read the story of how several residents are trying to recover and watch the accompanying video.