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Lack of funding holds up probe of blasts

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Kai Ryssdal: Down in Texas this past week there have been two big industrial accidents. Explosions at a chemical plant and an oil refinery. Those kinds of things are usually gone over with a fairly fine-toothed comb by the federal government. But the board that's in charge of investigating factory accidents isn't looking into either one of 'em. Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer explains why.


NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Ever heard of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board? I didn't think so. It's modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board, but with a much smaller budget. It's in charge of investigating accidents at refineries and factories, with a budget of about $10 million. And a staff of 40.

JOHN BRESLAND: If we got more money, we could investigate more accidents.

John Bresland chairs the chemical safety board. He says it only investigates about 15 percent of the serious accidents in the U.S. every year. It's only required to investigate if a member of the public is killed. Bresland says that happened earlier this week near a manufacturing plant outside Chicago.

BRESLAND: Something was blown out of the facility into the parking area of a rest stop on interstate 90 and struck someone.

Jim Frederick is a health and safety expert with the United Steelworkers Union. He says there'll be more factory accidents because companies are taking safety shortcuts in this tough economy.

JIM FREDERICK: An 8-hour refresher training that's supposed to be done annually isn't performed. Rather, they get an hour or two here and there on a computer-based training module.

Congressman Gene Green is a Democrat from Houston -- home of numerous refineries and chemical plants. He wants Congress to appropriate several million dollars for a chemical safety board office in Houston.

GENE GREEN: Because we don't want to lose one person, or have one person injured.

Green says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will investigate the two recent accidents in Texas. But OSHA is more focused on how companies comply with government regulations It doesn't investigate what causes accidents.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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