House: OSHA Could Have Prevented T2 Blast

In a Jan. 11 letter to OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke Jr., House legislators stressed the fatal explosion at T2 Laboratories in Jacksonville, Fla., could have been prevented had OSHA enforced stronger refinery and chemical safety rules.

The Chemical Safety Hazard and Investigation Board (CSB) said the Jan. 3 blast, which killed four workers and injured a dozen others, was caused by “an out of control chemical reaction.” California Democrat Reps. George Miller and Lynn Woolsey stated that modifying OSHA's Process Safety Management Standard (1910.119) in accordance with CSB's suggestions would “most likely have covered the reactive process at T2 Laboratories and compliance with that modified standard might have prevented the fatal explosion.”

In 2002, CSB conducted a major study of reactive hazards and identified 167 serious reactive chemical accidents in the United States over a 20-year period. The board concluded that the incidents were “a significant chemical safety problem” and that OSHA's standard has “significant gaps in coverage of reactive hazards because it was based on a limited list of individual chemicals with inherently reactive properties.”

Woolsey and Miller chastised the agency for not heeding CSB's recommendations and instead focusing more on compliance assistance and voluntary efforts.

“Other workers' live remain at risk,” the legislators wrote. “Because of the uncontrolled hazards of reactive chemicals, revising the Process Safety Chemical Standard to cover reactive hazards should be a high priority for OSHA.”

The issue of improving this standard was raised long before the 2002 CSB study. According to Miller and Woolsey, five national unions in 1995 petitioned OSHA for a revision of the standard following an explosion and a fire at a chemical plant in Lodi, N.J. Although the agency issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for reactive hazards on its regulatory agenda in 1998, OSHA later withdrew it because of “resource constraints and other priorities.”

OSHA spokesperson Sharon Worthy told Occupational Hazards that Foulke and other officials are in the process of reviewing the letter and could not respond until they have done so thoroughly.

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