Farm Bill Drops OSHA Language that Would Have Endangered Chem Plant Workers

Jordan Barab

Jordan Barab Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

Workers in chemical facilities and those living nearby can sleep easier after the US Congress declined to include language in the long-awaited Farm Bill that would have forced OSHA to write regulatory language into the Process Safety Management (PSM) standard that would have threatened the lives of chemical plant workers and those living nearby.

PSM regulates worker safety in the nation’s chemical facilities and refineries.

Avid Confined Space readers may recall that after the catastrophic West Fertilizer explosion in 2013 that killed 15 and destroyed much of the city of West, Texas, Americans realized that facilities like West Fertilizer, that used and stored large quantities of highly hazardous chemicals, had fallen through a loophole in the PSM standard that exempts “retail facilities” from coverage.

“Retail” had not been defined in the PSM standard when it was issued in 1992, and although the standard clearly envisioned only facilities like gas stations and hardware stores to be exempted, OSHA had issued a flawed definition of “retail facility” that exempted more risky facilities like West Fertilizer from PSM. The result was that West Fertilizer was not covered by PSM and had not been inspected by OSHA since the 1980s. 

After the West explosion and other chemical plant disasters, President Obama issued an Executive Order which instructed OSHA to change the definition of “retail” to something that made more sense.  OSHA issued a memo re-interpreting the definition of “retail,” but that change was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which told OSHA it had to go through full notice and comment rulemaking before making the change. OSHA then added the definition of retail to the issues being considered in its ongoing modernization of the PSM standard which currently languishes on OSHA’s “long term” regulatory agenda.

Under pressure from the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA), which represents businesses that sell farm chemicals, as well as the Fertilizer Institute, House Republicans added language to the Farm Bill that would have required OSHA to write the old, flawed definition into the PSM standard. That language, however, ran into strong opposition in the Senate and from groups like the United Steel Workers union and the National Safety Council.

Even OSHA opposed that language because it “would create enforcement problems for OSHA” and “effectively eliminate the entire chemical manufacturing sector from coverage under the PSM standard, jeopardizing the safety and health of chemical facility workers.”.

Happily, the Conference Report agreed to earlier this week by the Senate and the House contains no such language.  The ARA is not pleased. OSHA will now consider a new definition of the retail exemption, taking into account public input, when the agency gets around to proposing an updated PSM standard. 

Meanwhile,  two OSHA regions are conducting emphasis programs focusing on the hazards of ammonium nitrate, the chemical that caused the West explosion, as well as agricultural anhydrous ammonium.  The emphasis programs began on October 1 with a three-month period of education and prevention outreach to encourage employers to bring their facilities into compliance with OSHA standards before the enforcement phase begins. More information can be found on OSHA’s  Fertilizer Industry Guidance on Storage and Use of Ammonium Nitrate webpage and another on its anhydrous ammonia standards, as well as its free consultation services.

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Reposted from Confined Space

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work