Following Deadly Beirut Explosion, Labor Leaders Call on OSHA to Update Ammonium Nitrate Standard

WASHINGTON – Three members of the House Committee on Education and Labor wrote to Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia today calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update its standards to protect American workers and communities from catastrophic explosions like the recent tragic events in Beirut and in West, Texas in 2013. The Beirut ammonium nitrate explosion has killed over 200 people and the West Fertilizer explosion killed 15, including 12 emergency responders.

Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Education and Labor Committee, along with Chair Alma Adams (NC-12), Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, and Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) asked OSHA to either update its Process Safety Management Standard to include Ammonium Nitrate – the material that exploded in Beirut and the city of West – or to update its specific ammonium nitrate standard.

OSHA’s current ammonium nitrate standard is almost 50 years old and the Process Safety Management Standard, which protects workers from chemical plant catastrophes, is almost 30 years old. President Obama’s Executive Order following the West Fertilizer explosion, ordered OSHA to update protections for ammonium nitrate and chemical plant safety in general.

Both a 2014 Government Accountability Office report, as well as a 2016 Chemical Safety Board report recommended that OSHA update standards to protect workers against ammonium nitrate explosions. The Process Safety Management Standard has been on OSHA’s long-term regulatory agenda for almost four years with no forward progress.

Ammonium nitrate is a highly reactive chemical used primarily for fertilizer. Under certain conditions, it can explode catastrophically. The deadliest industrial accident in United States history was the 1947 ammonium nitrate explosion in Texas City, Texas, which killed 581 people and injured thousands of others.

“In order to prevent any future tragedies like the explosions in West, Texas or Beirut, Lebanon, we call on you to put the Process Safety Management Standard back on the active regulatory agenda and invest resources to ensure its timely issuance in order to protect plant workers, emergency responders and the surrounding communities from the tragic consequences of ammonium nitrate explosions,” the Members wrote.

The letter also asked OSHA to either cover ammonium nitrate in its PSM standard or to update OSHA’s free-standing ammonium nitrate standard. Ammonium nitrate was not covered by the PSM standard when it was issued in 1992.

To read the full letter, click here.


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