The Obama administration’s lack of action to impose recommended changes to make refineries, chemical factories and sugar plants safer may have gotten public rebuke from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board by the time this is read. The independent investigative agency has said that it will consider labeling as “unacceptable” the inaction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on seven recommended moves in the past decade. This issue was to be taken up at a July 25 public meeting. The board will also vote on whether to designate an OSHA standard on combustible dust at sugar refineries and related factories its “Most Wanted” safety change, the first time it will make that distinction, according to a statement.
For advocates pushing President Barack Obama’s administration to act on these and related measures to protect workers and the public, the board’s likely condemnation highlights what it calls unnecessary delays. The safety board “has made a number of recommendations to OSHA over the years on life-threatening issues, and OSHA hasn’t really responded through the regulatory process,” according to Matt Shudtz, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Progressive Reform. The safety of chemical plants, refineries and fertilizer factories has taken on a new priority in Washington following several deadly mishaps, including the fire and explosion at a fertilizer depot in West, Texas, in April that killed 14 people.
The board investigates industrial accidents and issues recommendations to regulators, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA, as well as companies, states and local authorities. The Washington-based agency lacks the authority to force regulators or companies to make changes. Four of the seven recommendations on the meeting agenda would apply to combustible dust, which caused three major industrial explosions in 2003, killing 14. OSHA has been considering a rule to regulate these facilities since 2009, but so far it hasn’t submitted even its initial proposal to the White House for review. That is unacceptable.
Ammonium nitrate, which fueled the West explosion, is now regulated by local, state and federal agencies in a “patchwork that has many large holes,” board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said at a recent Senate hearing. But interestingly, regulating that chemical wasn’t on the agenda for the July 25 meeting. The investigation into that incident continues, and the board hasn’t made any recommendations to include on a “most wanted” list, according to Hillary Cohen, a spokeswoman for the board. This issue had to be sent to the printer earlier than usual, so we don’t know what happened at the meeting.
Source: Insurance Journal
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