Alabama company faces fines after chemical exposure kills two workers

Published 9:13 pm Thursday, January 6, 2022

A chemical manufacturing company faces more than $230,000 in fines after a federal investigation found exposure to toxic chemicals led to the deaths of two employees and sickened another last summer.

Daikin America exposed three chemical operators to fluorocarbon and other hazardous chemicals that led to respiratory failure for the workers at its Decatur facility on July 2, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor said Wednesday.

Wesley Rusk, who had worked for the company for more than 20 years, died Aug. 10 at Vanderbilt Medical Center. Will Delashaw died at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital on Sept. 28. The third employee spent nearly a week in a hospital before being released, the federal department said.

“Two families will enter 2022 without their loved ones and one family will have the long-lasting memory of a frightening and serious illness,” said Ramona Morris, area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Birmingham. “This tragic event should serve as a lesson for all employers to ensure effective safety protocols are established before initiating maintenance activities involving chemical processing equipment and systems.”

OSHA’s investigation found the exposure occurred while the workers were conducting maintenance activities that resulted in the release of toxic fumes, news outlets reported. It also revealed that Daikin failed to implement “critical safe work practices … and ensure workers used appropriate respiratory protection and personal protective equipment,” the labor department said.

Daikin now faces a total of $232,103 in fines and OSHA citations for nine serious and one willful violation. The company has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference with the area director or contest the findings before an independent review commission.

In a statement to WAAY-TV, Daikin said they “continue to mourn the loss of two of our finest members” and extend heartfelt sympathy to the families and friends of Delashaw and Rusk.

As for the violations, they said the situation may involve litigation and thus limits their comments at this time.

“However, what we can say at this time is that we strongly disagree with OSHA’s conclusions, because we believe they are mistaken,” the statement said. “We recognize OSHA’s authority and will continue to work with OSHA toward resolution. Our number one priority at Daikin is, and always has been, the safety and well-being of our employees.”