The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a proposed $233,103 fine against Daikin America, Inc. in Decatur, Alabama, after concluding an investigation of toxic chemical exposures resulting in two employees’ deaths and another employee’s serious injury, including respiratory failure. It appears similar to a toxic exposure incident at the same plant in 2019.
“The OSHA findings come as no surprise to us based on our own investigation of the on-the-job toxic exposure incident last July for our client,” Beasley Allen lawyer Kendall Dunson said. “The agency’s findings support our client’s claims that Daikin failed to protect its employees. The citations are serious, and the proposed steep fine demonstrates a pattern of bad behavior on Daikin’s part because it appears this is the second fatally toxic exposure incident since 2019.”
Beasley Allen filed a lawsuit last year on behalf of Will Delashaw’s family. Will was one of the workers fatally injured after he was exposed last July to a toxic chemical that was unknown at the time due to Daikin’s failure to properly document the toxic chemicals it uses. Now, federal investigators have determined Will and the other workers were exposed to several toxic chemicals, including fluorocarbons. Will and two of his co-workers were wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and respirators at the time of the exposure. However, federal investigators also discovered the PPE and respirators were not adequate. One worker was treated for respiratory failure before returning home. Another worker succumbed to his injuries on Aug. 10, and Will’s death followed weeks later Sept. 28. Will was waiting for a lung transplant at the time of his death.
The agency cited Daikin for nine serious violations and one willful violation. In addition to using improper PPE and respirators, the findings report cited Daikin for:
- Failing to institute critical safe work practices that OSHA requires.
- Failing to monitor air quality and assess chemical exposures.
- Failing to provide written procedures that clearly identify the required level of respiratory protection.
- Failing to communicate the hazards associated with the chemicals to its workers.
OSHA defines a willful violation as one “in which the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.”
“Daikin should have been actively protecting its employees all along, but there were obvious steps it refused to take after the 2019 incident to prevent the latest fatal exposure,” Beasley Allen’s Kendall Dunson said. “This type of disregard for human life speaks volumes about what the company values most – its bottom line.”
In 2019, two workers were exposed to toxic chemicals at the Decatur, Alabama, plant. One died nine weeks after the exposure. The other worker spent five months at the University of Alabama Birmingham hospital. She was able to return home but was forced to be on oxygen 24 hours a day until her death last September due to complications from COVID.
“OSHA’s citations and proposed fine send a strong message to employers that fail in their duty to protect their workers – the agency will work to hold wrongdoers accountable. The federal probe continues and could result in criminal charges, too,” Kendall said.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)