June 16, 2003
Volume 81, Number 24
CENEAR 81 24 p. 7
ISSN 0009-2347


GOVERNMENT

Tougher OSHA Rules Debated

JEFF JOHNSON

Concern, but little clear direction, emerged from a June 10 meeting called by government agencies to consider expanding federal regulations to better protect employees and companies from accidents caused by runaway chemical reactions.

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Rosenthal
PHOTO BY JEFF JOHNSON
A report by the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSHIB) last year found that in the past 20 years, more than half of 167 serious industrial chemical accidents and 108 fatalities involved reactive chemicals not covered by federal regulations (C&EN, June 3, 2002, page 6).

The chemicals are formed and used in process reactions, but added safety precautions are not required for these key components of chemical manufacturing.

The meeting was organized by CSHIB, OSHA, and EPA. It focused mostly on toughening OSHA's process safety management (PSM) standard to include reactive chemicals.

Officials from large chemical companies said internal directives already addressed reactives and had resulted in a steep drop in accidents. But attendees said that small and mid-sized companies, as well as storage facilities, could benefit from better regulation and guidance.

"There was surprising agreement among diverse participants that something must be done on reactives," CSHIB member Isadore Rosenthal said.

On the day before the meeting, eight unions petitioned OSHA to toughen the PSM standard for reactives. OSHA and EPA officials said the meeting would help guide their approach but warned of the complexity of such a regulation.



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