Honeywell Geismar, Loisiana

Honeywell has industrial sites in both East Baton Rouge and Ascension Parishes. 

Jason Derousselle's co-worker heard a sound, the release of hydrogen fluoride and then screams.

When the co-worker at Honeywell in Geismar turned around and called for Jason, all he could see was one of Derousselle's blue gloves sticking out of a toxic cloud emanating from what was later determined to be a faulty valve gasket, according to a state investigative report.

Months since his death, new information from state and federal investigations, obtained through public records requests and other inquiries, has shed light on the death of the 51-year-old Prairieville resident.

Derousselle was one of two men killed in industrial accidents at two Ascension Parish chemical plants last October. Dexter Armstead, also of Prairieville, was killed six days earlier at BASF.

A Louisiana State Police investigation into Derousselle’s death last year led to no charges against Honeywell or its personnel, said Capt. Nick Manale, a State Police spokesman.

But federal workplace safety investigators faulted Honeywell for failing to do inspections and tests on some equipment — including the parts that leaked, killing Derousselle.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has leveled four violations against Honeywell over Derousselle's Oct. 21 death, leading to $58,008 in fines.

In addition to inadequate inspections, OSHA faulted Honeywell for lacking early detection systems for hydrogen fluoride leaks. The agency also found the company did not do enough to re-train workers about unit startups and provide written procedures for that work.

Regulators also faulted Honeywell for failing to ensure employees followed a key safety procedure for a startup and wore protective equipment, according to agency citations.

A follow-up inspection at Honeywell in October resulted in two more serious violations and another $29,004 in fines over alleged failures in processes designed to safely handle highly hazardous chemicals, OSHA records say.

Honeywell did not respond to an email with requests for comment. The fines were issued on April 19.

An OSHA spokesman said the company remains in informal settlement negotiations with the agency.

Derousselle's adult son, Alex, declined to comment.

Honeywell had other acid leaks, fines

At the time of the accidental release, Derousselle had been asked to help a coworker get control of a line that was already "off gassing" hydrogen fluoride, which could be smelled in the area, the State Police report says.

According to OSHA, the plant was in a “turnaround,” or a period of heavy maintenance when whole units can be shutdown.

Unable to tighten the bolts on the leaking flange, the coworker turned to walk to a control valve and shut the leaking line when the gasket failed. Derousselle was sprayed with hydrogen fluoride, though he was standing about 10 to 15 feet away.

The co-worker pulled Derousselle to a safety shower and he received medical treatment. But he died later the same day at Baton Rouge General, the report says.

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The chemical, which is called hydrofluoric acid when mixed with water, severely burned Derousselle on the face and neck, and he suffered respiratory and cardiovascular reactions that led to his death.

Honeywell uses hydrogen fluoride to make refrigerants. The potent chemical can be fatal even with a small splash of a concentrated amount, burning the skin and damaging the lungs and other organs if inhaled or absorbed through the skin, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the three years leading up to Derousselle's death, the Honeywell plant had a series of smaller leaks of hydrofluoric acid and other chemicals due to equipment failures — including inside the unit where Derousselle was killed, DEQ records show.

Also, in early April 2019, a contract worker at Honeywell received second-degree burns to the face and neck from hydrofluoric acid vapor while working on a line, OSHA documents show.

A subsequent inspection later that same month uncovered a serious violation of procedures to ensure lines are shut before employees and contractors work on them.

On Aug. 23, 2019, OSHA issued a fine of $13,260 against Honeywell but later reached an informal settlement for $7,956, agency records say.

Recent inspections didn't flag gasket that failed

Process safety experts often say that smaller problems can be early warnings for bigger concerns.

Honeywell had been reporting to DEQ that it was routinely checking thousands of pieces of equipment for leaks and making necessary repairs, DEQ records show.

In Honeywell's responses to state investigators probing Derousselle's death, the company said again it had conducted regular leak detection and other overlapping inspections efforts on the failed equipment, including twice at the middle and the end of September 2021.

In a public records request, some portions of Honeywell's inspections reports and standards were redacted by State Police at the request of Honeywell to protect proprietary business information. But a State Police investigator noted, citing those Honeywell records, that "the affected equipment involved in this incident was part of several different inspection cycles and/or programs."

"No serious issues were documented on the inspection reports and the equipment was allowed to stay in service," the trooper wrote.

The investigating trooper also noted, however, that an OSHA compliance officer was still probing the death and "the exact cause of the equipment failure."

In mid-November, the trooper noted that the OSHA investigator had locked the failed equipment in a room at Honeywell for further testing.

What the OSHA investigator found since then remains unclear. With Honeywell's violations still pending, OSHA officials said, their investigative reports are not yet public record.

But the agency's citations allege Honeywell "did not perform inspection and tests on process equipment" that included the hydrogen fluoride line that failed.

Officials at DEQ, which regulates pollution into the environment, said they are still looking at the Honeywell incident, which released a fairly small, though deadly amount of hydrogen fluoride.


Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com.