OSHA Cites Army Corps of Engineers for Inadequate Safeguards against Ammonia Release

August 13, 2007

Inadequate and incomplete safeguards against ammonia releases at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Hanover, N.H., Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory have resulted in the issuance of four willful notices of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions by OSHA.

The Corps was cited for violations of OSHA's Process Safety Management standard, which is designed to prevent or minimize the catastrophic release of large amounts of highly hazardous chemicals – in this case, 17,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia used in the refrigeration system for the laboratory's ice engineering facility.

Among other things, the standard requires employers to compile written safety information and operating procedures for, and conduct hazard analyses of, the process, equipment and technology using the chemicals; develop clear operating procedures; train employees; ensure the mechanical integrity of the equipment used in the process; and evaluate compliance with process safety requirements every three years.

An inspection by OSHA's Concord area office found that the Hanover facility failed to collect and update all process safety information; complete, update, maintain and follow through on all process hazard analyses; maintain complete, certified and up-to-date written operating procedures; provide adequate employee training; inspect or test piping and other process equipment; maintain written procedures to manage any changes to the process; document corrective actions taken after a previous ammonia release; and certify that compliance audits were conducted every three years.

"The potential for a release of ammonia is present as long as these and other proper safeguards are not established, followed, and maintained," said Rosemarie Ohar, OSHA's area director for New Hampshire. "In this case, management knew for several years that all these requirements were not being met yet did not correct the hazards. Prompt and complete correction is required and must be a priority."

As a federal agency, the Corps must notify OSHA of corrective actions taken and may, within 15 days, schedule a meeting with the OSHA area director to discuss the violation notices, methods of correction, length of abatement periods and interim protective measures for employees. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

Salesmen Pose as Department of Labor Inspectors to Sell Equipment

According to an article in the North Carolina Labor Law Journal by Heather Crews, the N.C. Department of Labor recently received complaints from businesses after salespeople came to their offices trying to sell fire extinguishers and first aid kits amid posing as NCDOL inspectors. The salespeople claimed they were at the business to do a safety and health—or OSHA—inspection and, after a walk-around of the facility, tried to sell first aid kits and fire extinguisher signs.

"Our inspectors will never try to sell a business anything," Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said. "Not safety signs, first aid kits, or labor law posters. If someone says they are with the N.C. Department of Labor, look at their credentials to make sure they are on the up-and-up." OSH inspectors will identify themselves and show an identification badge anytime they come out to a business for an inspection.

The occupational safety and health standards do require fire extinguishers and readily available first aid supplies in the absence of an infirmary, clinic, or hospital in near proximity to the workplace. Business owners should review the standards and the requirements to ensure compliance.

Companies who called NCDOL said that the sales representatives said that there were new requirements to the standards. However, the standards have been in place for many years, and there are no recent changes.

The department also has had complaints in years past from companies approached to buy blood borne pathogen prevention kits and air compressor checks from self-proclaimed "inspectors" carrying badges. OSH inspectors, again, would not try to sell these products or services.

The labor department has referred the complaints about the salespeople posing as NCDOL inspectors to the N.C. Attorney General's Office.

OSHA Offers New Health Care Compliance Assistance Module


"This new Compliance Assistance Quick Start module is another example of how OSHA is making valuable information easily accessible to employers and employees so they can build and sustain a safe and healthful work environment," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "It is important that we make every effort to help put educational materials into the hands of stakeholders."

The new Health Care Industry Quick Start module is directed primarily at small employers in the health care field. The module is designed to help users find free resources on the OSHA Web site related to the health care industry.

The module is made up of eight steps including OSHA requirements that apply to many healthcare employers; developing a comprehensive safety and health program; training employees; and recordkeeping, reporting, and posting requirements.

Compliance Assistance Quick Start provides step-by-step guidance on how to identify OSHA requirements and guidance materials that may apply to specific workplaces. In addition to the new health care module, Quick Start includes modules for general industry, construction, and Hispanic outreach.

OSHA Proposes Nearly $73,000 in Penalties against 16 Companies Working at SeverCorr Construction Site

OSHA has proposed $72,775 in penalties against 16 companies involved in the construction of a SeverCorr steel plant near Columbus, Miss. Inspections conducted between February and May 2007 revealed 45 safety and nine health violations.

"Building a major manufacturing facility is a complex project, and companies must constantly monitor their worksites for safety and health concerns," said Clyde Payne, OSHA's area director in Jackson.

SeverCorr received 13 serious safety and two serious health violations with proposed penalties of $24,525. The violations included an unguarded rinse water pit, not developing specific lockout procedures on equipment to prevent accidental start-up during maintenance, and exposing employees to hazardous chemicals.

System Contracting was cited with six safety and one health violation, with proposed penalties of $15,675. Inspectors found that employees were exposed to fall hazards, unsafe electrical equipment and materials which were subject to accidental displacement. A System Contracting employee died in April 2007 after being struck by a metal pipe at the construction site.

S.A.F Building Services received five serious safety citations with proposed penalties of $6,000 for improper use of electrical connections and exposing employees to fall hazards.

Inspectors cited Scheuck Steel with four serious safety violations and penalties totaling $5,325 after finding that employees were exposed to fall hazards. A Scheuck Steel employee died at the site in 2006 after being struck by a material handler forklift.

OSHA proposed penalties totaling $21,250 against the 12 other companies for additional alleged safety and health violations.

Edwin G. Foulke Jr. Comments on New Workplace Fatality Data

The fatality rate declined to its lowest level since BLS began collecting data in 1992. The rate last year was 3.9 fatalities per 100,000 employees, down from 4.0 in 2005.

The number of fatal work injuries among employees younger than 25 years of age decreased nine percent, from 568 in 2005 to 516 in 2006. In addition, the fatality rate among Hispanic employees declined slightly, from 4.9 fatalities per 100,000 employees in 2005 to 4.7 fatalities per 100,000 in 2006.

"We are pleased to see both the rate and number of fatal work injuries continue to decline. More working men and women are returning to their loved ones at the end of the work day," said Foulke. "While these figures demonstrate progress, we still have a long way to go.

"We believe our initiatives are working. However, even one fatality is one too many. To end fatalities, injuries and illnesses on the job, nothing is more effective than prevention. We remain committed to helping all employers protect their most valuable resource—their employees."

Committee Report Warns of Serious Risks from Bisphenol A in Plastics


“If I were a committee member, I wouldn’t sign off on this broken report,” Dr. Jennifer Sass, senior scientist in NRDC’s Health and Environment Program said. “Harmful effects in laboratory animals exposed to even the low levels of BPA that are commonly found in the blood and urine of Americans include an increase in prostate and breast cancer, type II diabetes, reproductive abnormalities, reduced semen quality, recurrent miscarriage, obesity, and neurobehavioral problems similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

Despite its limitations, the committee report warns that BPA is associated with abnormal reproductive development, and even at low doses is associated with harmful neural and behavioral effects in fetuses exposed to BPA at real-world doses.

BPA is a highly toxic, widespread contaminant used in plastic food and drink packaging, baby bottles and in resins that are used to coat food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes. Government studies report that 95 percent of Americans have BPA in their blood and urine at levels that cause developmental abnormalities in laboratory animals.

In its report, the committee failed to incorporate public comments from scientific experts, disregarded dozens of studies published in highly respected peer-reviewed journals, and relied heavily on flawed data sponsored by the chemical industry. The result is a committee report that fails to warn Americans about the full range of risks associated with this toxic chemical that contaminates our food and water.

The greatest scientific flaw in the report, according to experts, is the committee’s decision to limit their review to oral-dose studies, primarily the industry-sponsored studies, and not injection studies. This means they failed to include evidentiary science of the full range of risks to unborn fetuses, who receive BPA through the contaminated blood circulation, irrespective of the pregnant mother’s route of exposure.

The National Toxicology Program selected this chemical for evaluation for four reasons: high production volume, widespread human exposure, evidence of reproductive toxicity in laboratory animal studies, and public concern.

In a parallel process that highlights the flaws in the committee report, last week the journal Reproductive Toxicology published a consensus statement from 38 internationally recognized scientific experts, saying: “The wide range of adverse effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals exposed both during development and in adulthood is a great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans.”

Next steps will be for the National Toxicology Program to compile all information, including the consensus data of the 38 experts and its own in-house experts to draft its report.

Chemical evaluations from the National Toxicology Program are used by state and federal regulators to set clean up and exposure standards, and are therefore an invaluable resource for regulatory agencies to wisely allocate resources towards the least burdensome and most effective strategies to protect human health.

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CSB Investigative Team Examining Acetylene Fire

An investigative team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has been deployed to the site of an acetylene fire at the Hughes Christensen Co. manufacturing facility in The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

Preliminary examination of news video suggests the involvement of a similar delivery trailer of Western International Gas and Cylinders Inc. in both incidents. The trailers in the Dallas incident were destroyed by the fire. Last week's incident reportedly resulted in the evacuation of 800 employees.

CSB Investigator Robert Hall, P.E., who will lead the three-member investigative team said, 'We will be examining the Hughes Christensen incident to see if there are further similarities to the Dallas fire.

Hughes Christensen Co. is an oil drilling bit manufacturer. The company is a subsidiary of Baker Hughes Inc., a Houston-based oil field service company. Western International Gas and Cylinders Inc. is a supplier of industrial welding gases based in Belleville, Texas.

CSB Proceeding Evaluating Barton Solvents Explosions


Shortly after 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, July 17, explosions and fire erupted in the outdoor tank storage area of the facility. The outdoor "tank farm" contained approximately 40 tanks with capacities ranging from 3,000 to 20,000 gallons.

At the time of the accident a tanker truck containing varnish-makers and painters (VM&P) naphtha was being offloaded and pumped into a 15,000-gallon storage tank at the facility. VM&P naphtha is classified as a flammable liquid by the National Fire Protection Association and is used widely in the paints and coatings industry.

CSB investigators first arrived at the facility on July 19, to begin assessing the accident and examining the site. According to a number of eyewitness interviews, the VM&P naphtha was being pumped to an aboveground storage tank that subsequently exploded and launched into the air, creating a large fireball. The accident led to the evacuation of thousands of residents, and at least one home and a nearby business suffered structural damage from flying debris from the various explosions. The tank farm was completely destroyed.

The investigative team returned to Kansas last week and will continue collecting and analyzing evidence. CSB Lead Investigator Randy McClure said, "The investigative team will be examining the tanks that failed and released their contents during the explosions and fire. We plan to examine the pressure relief systems, tank design, and facility configuration placing the tanks in the single spill containment." He added, "It is unfortunate that an explosion in one partially filled tank could result in a serious threat to the plant workers and nearby community."

Barton Solvents packages, stores, and delivers solvents and other chemical products. The company also has distribution locations in Iowa and Wisconsin.

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