A vice president of the nation's dominant union in the oil and chemical industry has urged the head of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to remove the administrator over the region embracing Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico, to run the region directly from Washington.
Anthony Mazzochi, vice president of thre Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union, made the request in a letter this week to Eula Bingham, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.
The letter charges that in this region, which by OSHA's count contains three-fourth of all oil refineries and petrochemical plants in the United States, OSHA "has been consistently week in enforcing the law, particularly health standards, specifically against large corporations."
Robert Trice, who has headed OSHA's regional office in Dallas since 1974, "emphatically" denied that there has been weak emforcement or deference to industry during his tenure. A spokesman for Bingham said there is "no precedent" for running an OSHA region from Washington, but added that OSHA is studying the charges made by Mazzocchi.
Mazzocchi, who directs health and safety efforts of the 175,000-member union, specifically charged that:
As the result of the "willful" safety violations, eight men were killed and 14 were hurt in a March, 1977, explosion and fire at Texaco's Port Arthur, Tex., plant, but OSHA fined the company a mere $13,000.
After the investigation of the B. F. Goodrich plant in Port Neches, Tex., turned up evidence that workers had been exposed to benzo (a) pyrene - which induced leukemia experimentally in animals - OSHA scaled down its investigation and directed its energies elsewhere.
Air samples taken by Gulf Oil Corp. in 1975 at its Port Arthur refinery found concentrations of benzo (a) pyrene 60 times higher than OSHA's but OSHA did not start a reinspection of the facility until August, 1977.
After OSHA found impermissible concentrations of benzene, a potent carcinogen, in the air at a Texaco facility in Port Arthur, it told the company but not the union which had requested the tests. It also took OSHA two months to cite the company.
Included in the responses of regional administrator Tice and staff members in the Dallas office were explanations that the fine for the March 17 explosion was the maximum possible for the safety violations found and that there is no provisions in the law to make the penalties commensurate with the number of deaths and injuries that result.
Tice and aides also said the team of OSHA investigators that discovered benzo (a) pyrene at the Goodrich plant was reduced thereafter because its present wasn't needed continously; that OSHA didn't learn about the discrepancy between it and Gulf's benzo (a) pyrene findings until June or early July, and still doesn't have Gulf's data.
Some Houston lawyers agree with another Mazzocchi charge, that OSHA interprets the Freedom of Information Act rigidly to block giving workers data. Houston attorney David L. Grissom said that in more than three months he has been unable to get an accurate picture from OSHA of what happened in a May 10, 1976, explosion at a Shell refinery in Deer PArk, a Houston suburb, in which two workers were killed and his client was severly burned.
"I wrote letters to OSHA and I don't even get a response," Grissom said. "I think a guy who has been burned over 80 per cent of his body deserves to know what happened to him."
Tice said it's up to the regional solicitor to decide what information is to be realesed so as not to joepardize cases in which industry appeals OSHA citations.