Requests Criminal Investigation
(SUMMARY: The father of one of the three workers killed in a packaging facility explosion two months ago has now filed suit in Houston. He explains his feelings and relationship with his son, facts known about the incident to date, and what he hopes to achieve with the lawsuit. His attorney, Brent Coon of Houston, elaborates on the incident and expresses concern for the possible closing of the CSB, which is charged with investigating fatal chemical explosions across America, something that could significantly change industrial facility operations and increase safety and health risk factors. More details are below, and the office can be contacted for further information on this breaking story).
A multi-million dollar lawsuit was filed today in the State District Courts of Harris County Texas by Joe Gooch, who lost his son Jody Gooch in a tragic explosion at the Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) plant in DeRidder, Louisiana in February. The case is against PCA, the owner of the facility, and Elite Industrial Services of Pasadena, Mr. Gooch’s employer at the time of the incident. Joe Gooch is suing the companies as legal administrator on behalf of the estate of Jody Gooch as well as for his own damages.
“There is nothing like the love of your children, and it tears me up to know that my son lost his life in a highly avoidable tragedy at work. We hope that this lawsuit will shed more light on what happened and reduce the likelihood of it ever happening again. It was very upsetting to learn that PCA apparently had something like this occur only a few years ago at another facility and didn’t do much, if anything, to keep it from happening again here. A parent should never have to bury their own child and we hope this lawsuit and investigation will change the way these companies do business. It seems like these days all they care about is making money and more money and very little about worker safety” says Joe Gooch. “Even though my son was all grown up, he just about still lived here with us and it is hard adjusting to the fact that he won’t be coming home any more. You just can’t replace that hole it leaves in your heart. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families who sustained losses in this terrible tragedy and even though I am a forgiving person, if this happened like another explosion I heard about at PCA a few years ago, someone should go to jail”.
The incident, which killed three workers and injured several others, is still under governmental investigation by not only OSHA staff, but representatives of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), a highly skilled team of investigators based out of Washington D.C. that only take on a select few high profile tragedies in the industrial sector at any given time, usually involving multiple fatalities. The CSB has just released the first preliminary statements on their investigation and believes that the incident had to do with “hot work” igniting vapors on a containment vessel. Welding activity may have ignited combustible vapors emanating from by product liquids that had been left in the tank at the time the work was being performed.
Brent Coon, whose firm is filing the suit, stated:
“Once again my firm has been called upon to help a family as a result of tragic and senseless loss of life in an industrial operation. Welding is commonplace and workers should NEVER be made to work in an environment with welding activity anywhere around volatile vapors or combustible liquids. We will work with our team of independent experts and compare findings with the governmental investigations, which will collectively leave us with a clear picture of what happened. It goes without saying that this should not have happened, and as always, was something avoidable had the companies involved taken the appropriate steps to prepare the worksite safely before work commenced. If in fact these companies had hot work going on when they knew the containment vessels had not been cleaned and purged, they should not only be held liable in our civil courts, but face the scrutiny of a grand jury for criminal charges. Every manager and supervisor at every facility knows that you don’t engage hot work anywhere around potentially combustible areas, on containment vessels that have not been cleaned or on lines that have not been properly isolated and purged. It is early in this investigation into not only what happened on this occasion, but what the companies involved had in place as hazard analysis protocols, process safety systems and proper permitting. It is also disturbing to learn that something very similar occurred at another PCA facility only a few years ago which also killed three workers and little was apparently done subsequently to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident elsewhere in their system. This would be a disturbing safety culture failure. We have worked with the CSB and OSHA as lead counsel in the BP Texas City explosion in 2005, the Gulf Oil Spill and more recently in the multiple fatality incident at the DuPont plant in LaPorte, Texas, and all of those investigations revealed wide gaps in the safety culture of the companies involved. I am very confident that our joint investigations will get to the bottom of this and identify not only all the mistakes made by these companies, but also who specifically authorized them and why this work was not protected better”.
The CSB, the EPA and other safety and regulatory agencies are under scrutiny by the present administration in Washington and are facing massive budget cut proposals. The CSB has operated as an independent agency of the Federal Government since 1998 and is exclusively charged with investigating industrial chemical incidents. Their mission statement on the select few cases they are budgeted to investigate at any given time is to focus on the root causes of the incident and make industry recommendations to reduce the risk going forward. They are not involved in any penalty assessment issues and are comprised of highly trained technical resource personnel, primarily engineers and others with expansive background knowledge of the industrial sector.
“As a public policy law firm with a high degree of specialization on these types of events, it is most disheartening to see that they keep occurring, often due to the same root causes, and almost always due to money factors driving the bottom line and management decisions cutting corners to save money and finish projects quicker. You cant put profits over safety, cut corners and put lives at risk. What is equally tragic right now is that the CSB, which is the ONLY governmental agency with skill sets to investigate these types of events in the public sector and is heading up this investigation may be shut down by the Trump administration, which has targeted the CSB for closure. The CSB does incredible work on a shoe string budget of only a few million dollars a year and it would be asinine to shut it down for alleged “budgetary concerns” when the entire program is funded for amounts that are a small fraction of what is paid for security to the First Lady just to live in New York City instead of the White House. I try to stay of politics, but it is nauseating every time the corporations win the White House and immediately try to gut the agencies that try to protect our work forces. Hopefully enough people will complain about this and it will get enough media coverage to ultimately deter the White House and Congress from getting rid of this critically necessary agency, which as a result of their work product invariably save many lives in our industrial sector”, says Brent Coon.