Reactive Chemicals: Alliances Yes, Rulemaking No

For more than a year, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) and organized labor have pressured OSHA to amend its Process Safety Management standard to address reactive chemical hazards. The agency has resisted this advice.

OSHA chose, instead, to focus on a variety of voluntary efforts. In February CSB declared OSHA's response to the board's December 2002 rulemaking recommendations "unacceptable."

In March, OSHA and EPA announced another voluntary initiative, an alliance with the American Chemistry Council, the American Institute for Chemical Engineers' Center for Chemical Process Safety, the Chlorine Institute, the Mary Kay O'Connor Center for Chemical Process Safety, the National Association of Chemical Distributors and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association.

"Last October we announced new resources on chemical reactivity safety on our Web site," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "[This] alliance with this esteemed group of professionals is an example of how we are strengthening the foundation of a culture of prevention in the chemical industry."

The alliance's goal is to offer a means for the group to provide information, guidance and access to training resources to their members, customers, contacts and others involved in the manufacture, distribution, use and storage of chemicals.

CSB Chair Carolyn Merritt said the board is "highly supportive" of the alliance and will be tracking its activities closely. But, she added, the board "continues to believe that additional regulatory controls are needed" and will continue to press for adoption of the 2002 rulemaking recommendations.

As with most other OSHA alliances, no labor organizations are participating in the reactive chemistry alliance. Michael Sprinker, director of health and safety for the International Chemical Workers Union (ICWU), explained why.

"We believe OSHA is using the alliance process to evade rulemaking," said Sprinker. "If we participate, it will be seen as accepting OSHA's statement that they won't regulate reactive chemicals."

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