Last year, 15 workers were killed in West Texas during an ammonium nitrate explosion. The incident spurred officials with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration to issue a new Process Safety Management standard per the President’s Executive Order 13650.
The agency recently announced it would be extending the comment period for potential stakeholders before making final revisions and formalizing the measure.
Greensboro workers’ compensation lawyers understand the new measure broadly seeks to improve chemical safety and security at all workplaces.
Half of all states, including North Carolina, have their own process safety management plans pertaining to highly hazardous chemicals. These plans, which are similar to federal guidelines, outline procedures to ensure the unwanted release of dangerous chemicals doesn’t happen, and that employees and others don’t risk exposure.
Executive Order 13650 seeks to clarify and strengthen those procedures.
The order starts with the establishment of the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group, which would involve officials from the Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation and others. The group would meet quarterly to discuss the status of efforts to implement the other elements of the order.
Within 45 days of its establishment, this working group would deploy a pilot program that would involve the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security and others to validate the best practices for inter-agency communication and collaboration on how to best secure these chemical facilities and the products contained therein.
Within nine months, the group will have to create an integrated standard operating procedure for a unified approach to both identifying and responding to potential risks in chemical facilities. This includes what workers and employers should look for, how inspections should be conducted, what actions should be taken post-inspection and how agencies should respond to chemical accidents.
The order also calls for enhanced information collection and sharing by all agencies and industries involved.
The extent to which guidelines will be revised will depend heavily on the industry and type of chemical involved. Standards that are expected to undergo significant change include provisions on explosives and blasting agents, flammable liquids and spray finishing standards.
North Carolina has not been immune to chemical workplace injuries. In 2006, a textile chemical plant explosion in Morganton injured 14 workers (two of them seriously) and ignited a fire that carried thick black smoke for several miles. Nearby residents had to be temporarily evacuated, and workers suffered burns, head injuries and smoke inhalation.
The blast was believed to have been caused by improper handling of a chemical called toluene, which is an explosive, petroleum-based liquid. Prior to that, the company had been fined seven times, three times for violations in handling hazardous waste and four times for violating air emission limits.
The North Carolina Department of Labor recommends that all those who work with dangerous chemicals must:
- Know the potential hazards that are associated with separating, mixing and storing the chemical materials with which you work. Know which chemicals are explosive and what to do to mitigate the damage in the event that an accident does occur.
- Be mindful of equipment operation and maintenance requirements, including any signs of leakage, corrosion or other problems with equipment. Also make sure you know who to alert if you detect a problem.
- Follow all safety, operating and emergency procedures, and know when and if those procedures change.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
OSHA extends comment period on agency standards to improve chemical safety to March 31, March 5, 2014, Occupational Safety & Health Adminis tion
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