The 5 largest OSHA fines in history

Blog » The 5 largest OSHA fines in history

In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) into law, creating OSHA. With over 50 years of impact on the workforce, it is safe to say OSHA helped save thousands of lives and prevented millions of injuries. OSHA proposed civil penalties have a minimum and a maximum and are categorized as Serious/Other-Than-Serious Posting Requirements, Failure to Abate, and Willful or Repeated.

OSHA penalties

Inspired by the recent annual adjustments made to OSHA fines, we decided to look back on the largest OSHA fines issued to date.

Top 5 OSHA fines in history


#5 Kleen Energy Natural Gas Explosion

On February 7, 2010, six workers were killed and at least 50 others were injured in a natural gas explosion at the Kleen Energy power plant under construction in Middletown, Connecticut. The accident occurred during a “gas blow” – a planned effort to clean out debris by directing high-pressure natural gas through pipes. Investigators say it’s highly dangerous and the cause of the explosion in Middletown. The investigation also found that not all Kleen employees knew about the pipe purging. The horrific event resulted in O&G Industries receiving $8,347,000 in penalties, leading up to a total of $16.6 million also issued to Keystone Construction & Maintenance, and Blue Water Solutions.

#4 Imperial Sugar Company Explosion

On February 7, 2008, a sugar dust explosion occurred in the unventilated steel conveyor belt under the granulated sugar storage silos where an explosive amount of sugar dust was built up at the Imperial Sugar Company in Port Wentworth, Georgia. In a matter of seconds, massive secondary dust explosions propagated throughout the entire sugar manufacturing facility. The fire and explosion caused 14 deaths and injured 38 others. The company received a penalty of $8,777,500.

#3 IMC Fertilizer/Angus Chemical Fertilizer Plant Blast

In 1991, a fertilizer plant explosion in Sterlington, Louisiana took the lives of 8 workers and injured 120 others. The unit was owned by Angus Chemical but operated and staffed by IMC Fertilizer, which owned two ammonia fertilizer plants at the site. The investigation found that a fire occurred in the area of a waste gas vent compressor in the nitroparaffins plant, causing a series of explosions to destroy a large section of the plant. This tragic event led OSHA to issue an $11,550,000 penalty.

#2 BP America Refinery Explosion

As fictional as it may have seen, Deepwater Horizon was very real, and it still hits close to the home. But this unfortunately was not the first scandal that BP (British Petroleum) was involved in. The British multinational oil and gas company has held multiple record-breaking penalties with OSHA. The first tragic accident was a Texas refinery explosion that resulted in the death of 15 and the injury of 180 workers in 2005. The final CSB report states that the explosions occurred when a distillation tower flooded with hydrocarbons and was overpressurized, causing a geyser-like release from the vent stack. BP had more than 300 violations, most of them willful in the accident, leading OSHA to issue a total penalty of $21,361,500.

Deepwater horizon oil spill

#1 BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

And as we mentioned before, Deepwater Horizon is one of the largest industrial accidents in history. 11 workers died in the explosion that occurred in April 2010, on the drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. BP stated that the accident was caused by several different safety factors involving multiple parties;

  • Dodgy cement
  • Leak not spotted soon enough
  • Valve failures
  • Overwhelmed separator
  • No gas alarm
  • Failure of BOP

The blowout caused millions of barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf, endangering thousands of animals and contaminating their habitats. The environmental effects of the spill were majorly on marine life, birds, and the groundwater supply in the area. On the last days of 2010, the US filed a complaint against BP and several other defendants alleged to be responsible for the spill. With more than 250 violations, BP was issued $81,340,000 in penalties which holds the record for the largest OSHA fine to date.

Ceren Dulgar

Ceren is a marketing enthusiast who is fascinated by the expansive world of EHS. You can catch her reading about the latest EHS news or advocating workplace safety.