OSHA Begins Regional Emphasis Program on Ammonium
A three-month period of education and outreach to employers about the hazards of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) and agricultural anhydrous ammonium began on Oct. 1, OSHA announced in a press release. The educational outreach is part of a new Regional Emphasis Program targeting the fertilizer storage, mixing/blending, and distribution industry in the states of Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Workers in this industry face hazards that include fire, explosions, and exposure to toxic gases and hazardous chemicals. “The 90-day outreach period is an opportunity for employers to proactively seek compliance assistance to ensure they are adequately protecting workers,” said Kimberly Stille, an OSHA regional administrator based in Kansas City, Mo. Following this outreach period, OSHA will engage in enforcement activities related to FGAN and anhydrous ammonium through Sept. 30, 2019. OSHA provides guidance to the fertilizer industry on the storage and use of ammonium nitrate on its website. The guidance includes a joint publication of OSHA, EPA, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms on the safe storage, handling, and management of solid ammonium nitrate in a bead-like form known as “prills.” Other resources available on the OSHA web page include guidance from a wide range of organizations including the Institute of Makers of Explosives; the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association; the United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive; Safe Work Australia; and the National Fire Protection Association. The NFPA 400 standard, Hazardous Materials Code, includes a chapter on ammonium nitrate.
At least forty tons of FGAN were present at the West Fertilizer facility in West, Texas, when it exploded in April 2013. The blast killed 12 first responders and three members of the public, caused more than 260 injuries, destroyed the storage facility, and damaged more than 150 additional buildings. The United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board determined that the explosion happened approximately 20 minutes after a fire was reported at the facility. In May 2016, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms announced that the fire had been deliberately set. That theory has come under criticism from arson safety experts and legal representatives of victims of the explosion, according to an article published by the Houston Chronicle. OSHA’s creation of the Regional Emphasis Program appears to meet one of CSB’s recommendations for improving safety at fertilizer storage facilities. In the wake of the West explosion, CSB issued 19 total recommendations. In addition to a regional emphasis program, CSB called on OSHA to either add FGAN to the list of highly hazardous chemicals in OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard or revise its Explosives and Blasting Agents standard to clarify that it applies to facilities that store bulk quantities of FGAN. More information about CSB’s recommendations is available from the agency’s website and its final report (PDF) on the explosion. OSHA’s action also appears to satisfy a recommendation from the Government Accountability Office that the agency improve oversight of facilities that store ammonium nitrate. The GAO report, published in 2014, suggested that OSHA conduct outreach to the fertilizer industry and target high-risk facilities for inspection. The OSHA press release announcing the Regional Emphasis Program is on the agency's website.
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FIRE AND EXPLOSIONS
At least forty tons of FGAN were present at the West Fertilizer facility in West, Texas, when it exploded in April 2013. The blast killed 12 first responders and three members of the public.