Safety and OSHA News

Proof OSHA isn’t completely shut down: $118K fine issued

Federal OSHA has cited the owners of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that blew up in April, killing 15 people. The fines total $118,300. The agency took this action even though almost 90% of its employees are furloughed due to the government shutdown.

OSHA issued 24 serious citations for violations including:

  • ammonium nitrate wasn’t in a separate building or separated by approved firewalls from storage of flammable and combustible materials
  • containers of anhydrous ammonia weren’t properly marked
  • lack of precautions against damage to ammonia systems from vehicles
  • failing to develop, implement and maintain at the workplace a required written hazard communication program
  • failing to pressure-test hoses
  • lack of employee safety training on hazardous energy control and forklift operation
  • bad or missing valves, and
  • failing to have an emergency response plan.

The plant was also cited under OSHA’s General Duty Clause for failing to furnish employment which was free from recognized hazards that caused death in that employees were exposed to the hazards of chemical burns and inhalation of anhydrous ammonia.

The information was released by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. The committee doesn’t oversee OSHA, but it does oversee another federal agency with jurisdiction in this case: the EPA.

Other federal agencies are investigating the explosion and may issue their own penalties.

Boxer said OSHA decided to issue the citations during the government shutdown to avoid statute of limitations problems. OSHA has six months from an incident to issue penalties.

The West Chemical and Fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas, exploded on April 17. Homes in the area were destroyed, causing millions of dollars in damage.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which is also investigating the explosion, called the blast the most damaging incident it has investigated in the 15 years the agency has existed. The CSB’s focus is to find root causes of disasters. It doesn’t have regulatory or enforcement power.

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