Delays in U.S. Chemical-Safety Standards Set for Panel’s Rebuke

By Mark Drajem | July 16, 2013

The Obama administration’s lack of action to impose recommended changes to make refineries, chemical factories and sugar plants safer is set to get a public rebuke from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

The independent investigative agency said yesterday it will consider labeling as “unacceptable” the inaction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on seven recommended moves in the past decade, when it holds 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 they call 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,” Matt Shudtz, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Progressive Reform, said in an interview.

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.

14 Deaths

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 next week’s 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, and hasn’t yet submitted even its initial proposal to the White House for review.

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 Senate hearing last month. However, regulating that chemical isn’t on the agenda next week: 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, an spokeswoman for the board.

Jesse Lawder, an OSHA spokesman, didn’t respond to questions about the board’s proposed changes.

(Editors: Steve Geimann, Ted Bunker)

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