Safety Blog Coverage Of The Sugar Refinery Explosion: Frustration With OSHA
Wellesley, MA (CompNewsNetwork) - Jordan Barab's participation
in the safety blogosphere is sorely missed - he was a tireless crusader for workplace
safety. Whenever a work tragedy occurred, such as last week's Imperial Sugar Refinery
explosion that claimed the lives of 6 workers, he could be always counted on to offer
details and expertise on the matter that couldn't be found elsewhere. So we have been
pleased to note the emergence of a few new blogs that have stepped up to the plate.
OSHA Underground provides both knowledge of OSHA and technical expertise about a variety
of work safety issues. It's quite obviously the blog of a frustrated insider, KANE, who is
vocal about diminishing OSHA resources and lack of agency leadership at the top. On Friday,
KANE blogged the refinery explosion, noting that the Chemical Board had previously
identified explosive dust hazards as a safety issue that needed to be addressed by OSHA.
KANE also posted a list of OSHA's comprehensive refinery inspections since March 2007, and
a letter from Congressman Miller to Elaine Chao calling OSHA to task for not having enacted
a standard to prevent combustible dust explosions, as recommended by the Chemical Safety
Board (CSB) in November 2006. Miller notes that the CSB report identified 281 combustible
dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers and injured 718.
The Pump Handle, another blog that is addressing work safety issues, also weighs in on
the Imperial Refinery explosion, noting that this is the second catastrophic industrial
explosion involving multiple fatalities in two months. In his post, Francis Hamilton
Rammazzocchi runs through the frustrating history of the Chemical Board's recommendations
to OSHA that might have prevented such tragedies: The [Chemical] Board found that “Reactive
incidents are a significant chemical safety problem,” but that OSHA’s Process Safety
Management standard “has significant gaps in coverage of reactive hazards.” The Board
therefore unanimously recommended that OSHA “Amend the Process Safety Management (PSM)
Standard, 29 CFR 1910.119, to achieve more comprehensive control of reactive hazards that
could have catastrophic consequences."
And the response since this prescient recommendation?
More than five years after the CSB’s recommendation was issued, OSHA has refused to act.
In typical Bush Administration fashion, instead of revising the PSM regulation, OSHA
established an “Alliance” of chemical industry associations and published a reactive
chemical webpage. The Alliance involved setting up booths at chemical industry conferences,
occasional presentations about Alliance activities, and two actual training workshops that
trained a total of 36 students. In 2004, the CSB evaluated OSHA’s response and judged it
“unacceptable,” and the Alliance was terminated in March 2007. Rammazzocchi also faults
the media for its pallid coverage and their lack of any call for accountability. He notes
that despite being "hip deep in an election year," candidates haven't been questioned in
any public forums about their stance on the regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA and
whether they will call for the agencies do the jobs that they were intended to do.
We've taken OSHA to task more than once for its recent hands-off attitude to safety
regulations and enforcement. While no one likes bureaucracy, self regulation by industry
insiders, or what some refer to as "the foxes guarding the hen-house" approach, clearly
isn't sufficient to ensure worker - and public - safety.