Until recently, Jody Gooch was among thousands of workers whose names appeared on a federal website, letting the public know how they had died on the job.
On Feb. 8, Gooch, an experienced pipe fitter, was on a temporary assignment at a plant owned by Packaging Corporation of America in Louisiana. He and co-workers Sedrick Stallworth and William Rolls were welding above a 30-foot tank when it exploded, catapulting them 200 yards away and killing all three. Seven others were injured.
Gooch, 40, left behind a 19-year-old son. It was just his third day on the job.
After the accident, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the nation’s top workplace safety regulator, imposed an initial fine against Packaging Corporation for $63,375. The agency also posted the names of Gooch, Stallworth and Rolls on a scrolling list of fatalities on its homepage.
But the names of workers including Gooch who have died on the job vanished from OSHA’s homepage on Aug. 25. Among the agency’s ostensible reasons: To protect the privacy of families whose loved ones had been killed.
But in interviews with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, families of workers who have died say the list should remain – including the names of those killed – to hold employers accountable.
“I think that information should be available to the public,” said Joe Gooch, whose son, Jody, had worked as a pipe fitter for about 20 years. “People ought to know what’s going on and what’s causing accidents.
“The fines are pretty ridiculous,” Joe Gooch said in an interview, referring to OSHA’s penalties, which are capped under federal law. But the list “puts a face to the accidents.”
Many of the deaths are already publicly reported in the media and the names are contained in public reports by police and other first responders.
But industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pushed back on the Obama-era practice of posting information on OSHA’s website about fatalities, saying companies should not be publicly shamed before investigations are complete. The scrolling list included the date, location and circumstances of each worker’s death.
Along with the decision to take down the fatality list, the Trump administration has postponed the deadline for employers to submit injury logs to be posted on the agency’s website until Dec. 1.
Dennis Stallworth, Sedrick Stallworth’s father, said OSHA’s decision to remove the identity of workers killed on the job reduces their deaths to a statistic.
“I think it’s wrong myself,” Stallworth said in a phone interview from his home in Mobile, Alabama. “If you made a mistake, live up to it. I realize your company is trying to make money, but you have people’s lives at stake. I don’t think they need to cover up stuff like that.”
Stallworth said that for families of those killed, as well as the broader public, understanding how accidents occurred and precisely who was killed will help prevent other tragedies.
“A lot of companies will take a shortcut and people get hurt,” Stallworth said. “These accidents need to be known about so they can hold these companies accountable for whatever is going on.”
The Chemical Safety Board is still investigating the deadly explosion that killed Gooch and the others at Packaging Corporation of America.
It is not the company’s first deadly accident. In July 2008, three workers welding on a catwalk above a massive storage tank died in an explosion at the company’s cardboard mill in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. Investigators from the Chemical Safety Board concluded the storage tank contained flammable hydrogen gas.