Attorneys say safety issues are common incident threads
Nearly a full week after an explosion at a natural gas pipeline station in Paradis lit up the St. Charles Parish sky, claiming the life of one worker and injuring another, investigations are in their earliest stages and answers are still in short supply.
Phillips 66 announced Monday that the fire was extinguished, and that a St. Charles Parish Coroner’s investigation of the site had begun.
While the cause has still not been determined – and likely won’t be for some time – attorneys who have represented families touched by similar Louisiana tragedies say that in their experience safety issues prior to an incident almost always surface once the probe is done.
“While we all hope that companies value their workers over profits, we’ve repeatedly seen that the opposite is true: safety rules and regulations are stressed on paper, then ignored in the field. Unless it becomes cheaper for oil and gas companies to operate safely than it is to violate the rules and put workers lives at risk, we’re likely to continue seeing disasters like this throughout the Gulf Coast and rest of the country,” said Ryan Zehl of Zehl & Associates, the Texas-based law firm that has represented victims of the 2015 Williams Pipeline explosion in Gibson and the 2013 Williams Olefins blast in Geismar.
Josh Helms of Thibodaux, who had worked eight years for Phillips 66, was presumed killed as a result of the Feb. 9 blast, according to a statement from the company.
Fire had prevented searchers from reaching the site.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to Josh’s family, friends and coworkers,” a statement from the company reads.
Desmond Calloway Jr., of Raceland, was injured in the blast. His grandfather, Nelton Calloway, told friends that while he was still in a very serious state in a Baton Rouge burn center, Desmond was improving.
Desmond was picked up along U.S. 90 within site of the blast shortly after it occurred, around 7 p.m., by a Mathews artist, Re Howse. She and her husband, Gene Henderson, had stopped to view the flames and the injured worker approached their car seeking help.
The couple raced to Ochsner St. Anne Hospital in Raceland, where Desmond was treated before being transported to Baton Rouge.
“We took two pictures and then were going to Facetime with our new phones,” Howse said. “Out of the field walks this man and I thought it was somebody coming to tell us to clear off. He bangs on my husband’s window and says ‘I’m real hurt, I am burning, there has been an accident, I need to go to the hospital right now’ and he got in behind my husband.”
‘While we all hope that companies value their workers over profits, we’ve repeatedly seen that the opposite is true: safety rules and regulations are stressed on paper, then ignored in the field. Unless it becomes cheaper for oil and gas companies to operate safely, … we’re likely to continue seeing disasters like this…’
Ryan Zehl, with Zehl and Associates