Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Unions Petition OSHA to Revise Process Safety Standard

Eight labor unions, the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and the AFL-CIO itself petitioned OSHA yesterday to amend the Process Safety Management Standard (PSM) to strengthen its coverage of reactive chemicals. The petition follows a September 17, 2002 report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which called on OSHA to make improvements in the PSM standard to help prevent additional reactive incidents.

According to the CSB's Reactives study,
Safely conducting chemical reactions is a core competency of the chemical manufacturing industry. However, chemical reactions can rapidly release large quantities of heat, energy, and gaseous byproducts. Uncontrolled reactions have led to serious explosions, fires, and toxic emissions. The impacts may be severe in terms of death and injury to people, damage to physical property, and effects on the environment.
The CSB Report pointed out serious deficiencies in the PSM standard. It called reactive chemical incidents a "significant chemical safety problem," and said the incidents have the potential for occurring at a wide range of worksites and "can severely affect workers and the public, as well as cause major economic losses and environmental damage."

Based on a review of limited data available, the CSB identified 167 reactive incidents between 1980 and 2001, resulting in 108 fatalities. Since 1993, when the PSM standard became effective, there have been at least 92 reactive chemical incidents.

The petition also called on OSHA to remove the exemption from PSM coverage of atmospheric storage tanks. The CSB also recommended that OSHA make this change in its October 2002 Motiva Report. OSHA has not yet made a substantive response to either recommendation.

The press conference held yesterday included a number of labor officials, as well as several survivors of reactive chemical disasters that killed many of their co-workers. The entire press packet and testimony by the workers can be found here.

The Clean Water Action Project and the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resource Defense Council also issued a statement supporting the labor petition and calling on EPA to revise its Risk Management Planning program as recommended by the Chemical Safety Board.

Five unions originally petitioned OSHA for a revised PSM standard in 1995 following an explosion and fire that year that claimed five lives at a Lodi, New Jersey plant. Under the Clinton Administration, OSHA had planned to issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to collect additional information on reactive chemical hazards as a first step toward revising the standard.

In December 2001, however, OSHA withdrew the proposed ANPR from the regulatory agenda because of “resource constraints and other priorities.” In a Special Report, Bush Administration Kills Safety Regulation Opposed by Donors, the Center for Public Integrity documented opposition and pressure from three industry trade groups – the American Chemical Council, the American Petroleum Institute and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association. According to the Center, “Employees of those groups and their member companies, and their political action committees, contributed more than $216,000 to Bush's presidential campaign.”

The Chemical Safety Board, OSHA and the EPA will cosponsor a roundtable discussion, today, June 10 to focus on regulatory avenues for controlling reactive hazards. The roundtable will bring together stakeholders from industry, labor, academia, government, and other organizations to discuss how EPA and OSHA might expand their regulatory coverage of reactive hazards, as recommended by the Chemical Safety Board. Three of the petitioning unions—PACE, UNITE and the ICWUC—will speak at the roundtable session.