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Friday, April 19, 2013

The important difference between Boston and West, Texas

In the safety business, you have to be perfect. If you aren't, people likely die, or at the very least get maimed.
Airlines, nuclear plants, chemical processors, food preparers, all sorts of business's where good enough is not good enough.
The Boston Marathon bombings were an act of terror. No amount of safety precautions can really stop that.
Lets be realistic here. It isn't difficult at all to build a pressure cooker bomb and haul it to an event, if you really want to. Or, make a dirty bomb and detonate it at city hall in any city during the lunch hour on any given day. If you want to do it, you can. And you will. Then, eventually, you will get caught and dealt with. And then, within a certain amount of time,  someone else will do it again.
And there is nothing any of us can do about it. We can only hope it isn't us in harms way when the time comes. But it will be somebody. Just like it will be somebody when a drunk driver who doesn't have any consideration of life gets unlucky and doesn't get home safely,  taking some innocent persons life and possibly their own. These are the realities of life we accept and can't really do anything about. 
But what has happened in West, Texas is something totally different. That plant has had safety violations and fines more than once. But that did not stop them from carrying on. 

The 2012 fine levied by the US Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration cited the company for "failing to develop and adhere to a security plan" and was negotiated down to $5,250.
The fines have raised public concerns over the management of the plant, as further record searches showed it was fined $2,300 in 2006, according to ABC News, following an inspection by the Environmental Protection Agency.
That report criticised the company for failing to develop a formal written maintenance programme and a risk assessment strategy that met Federal standards for the estimated 54,000lbs of anhydrous ammonia stored on site.
The report, obtained by the Dallas Morning News, stated "no" under the section for fire and explosive risk, adding that the "worst case scenario" laid out by the company was a "10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no-one".
What we know about  the West Texas Fertilizer plant is something that is a reality of our society. Money is valued above life. To close a plant like the one in West, Texas, it means people will be out of jobs and the city would lose taxes. So, safety violations are tolerated, until there is a fire and the place blows up, killing dozens. Then the finger pointing starts and the trail always leads back to money.
The right thing to do is state the clear cut safety rules that must be adhered to strictly. All the time. And then inspect them. The first mistake, and you close the plant for good. No exceptions. If that means that fertilizer costs go up, so be it. If that means that food costs go up, so be it. If that means the cost of flying on an airplane goes up, so be it. If higher cost is the price we have to pay to make sure that there isn't a first time for any of these types of things,  then so be it. You simply can't make mistakes in these types of businesses. People will die.
This already happens now, and we seem to be okay with it. Since 9/11, you get a surcharge any time you fly out of any airport for safety checks. Look at your bill for the flight, it is right on there, every time. Nobody that I know of complains about this. Why is that? Because we believe that while it won't catch all the terrorists who want to hijack planes, it will catch most of them and we are therefore safer because of that. We agree to pay for that safety. 

 Courtney Adair, 20, a great-niece of the owner of the facility said the family was in shock. "They don't know what to think or what's going to happen," she told the Washington Post, adding that her great-uncle had no enemies in the town, and believed the fire was a tragic accident.

Both incidents this week were tragedies. But neither were accidents. One was a deliberate intent to kill (in Boston) while the other was simple negligence that was bound to result in deaths. Just like the next one will. And the one after that. And the one after that.
And in this case, one you could not have stopped, while the other was easily avoidable. But only if you value life over money. 
Sadly, in our society, we don't.

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