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Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

The small town of West, Texas, will never be the same after April 17, 2013, when the community was deeply shaken by a powerful explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. storage and distribution facility that killed fifteen people and injured more than 160. Investigators found that the explosion was caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate.

In response, President Obama issued Executive Order 13650 “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security” in August of 2013. The order asks the tri-chairs of the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group (the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, and the Environmental Protection Agency) to work closely together to improve the safety and security of chemical facilities across the country. The chairs have worked diligently over the past two years on the following areas:

  • Strengthening community planning and preparedness;
  • Enhancing federal operation coordination;
  • Improving data management;
  • Modernizing policies and regulations; and
  • Incorporating stakeholder feedback and developing best practices.

The working group knows that stakeholders are essential to managing and mitigating the risks of potential chemical facility hazards and has engaged in a robust stakeholder outreach effort to identify successes and best practices. One year ago, the working group released a status report to the president, titled Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, which summarized the Working Group’s actions, findings and lessons learned, challenges, and short and long-term priority actions to that point. Last year’s status report was a milestone, not an end-point.

On June 9, 2015 OSHA released another update to highlight actions that have been taken since the release of the report last year. These highlights include:

Developing an online training module on the key requirements under Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act;

  • Initiating a multi-organization working group to identify a list of government approved training courses for first responders and emergency planners, found in the Training Repository;
  • Institutionalizing a federal working group to improve communication and coordination between agencies;
  • Establishing regional working groups in all 10 federal regions;
  • Incorporating chemical facility safety and security data into the EPA’s facility registry service;
  • Reissuing the advisory “Chemical Advisory: Safe Storage, Handling, and Management of Ammonium Nitrate” to incorporate stakeholder comments and concerns and the latest practices in ammonium nitrate safety;
  • Hosted a public webinar to share updates in November 2014 with the next webinar planned for June 19, 2015; and
  • Launching actions to modernize OSHA’s Process Safety Management Standard and EPA’s Risk Management Program.

Graphic Products offers a wide range of tools and informational guides to ensure chemicals are properly labeled in the workplace. Each complimentary guide can be used as a safety training resource and educational facilitator toward OSHA, ANSI, and NFPA compliance. Available guides include:

A version of this article by Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, appeared here.

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