Unions Decry CSB Failure to Demand Stronger OSHA Safeguards Against Reactive Chemical Explosions

Eric Frumin, Change to Win Health and Safety Coordinator, (cell) 917-209-3002
Jim Frederick, Ass’t Dir., USW Health, Safety and Env. Dept.  (c) 724-462-5364, (o) 412-562-2586.
John Morawetz, Sr. Coordinator, UFCW Health & Safety Department, (o) (513) 621-8882

Jacksonville, FL, Sept. 16, 2009—Several international unions representing hundreds of thousands of chemical industry workers today criticized the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) for abrogating its mandate to recommend strong EPA and OSHA standards to prevent runaway reactions in chemical factories, and urged the board to repeat its prior recommendations in the final report when they adopt it tonight.

The unions were reacting to the CSB’s new report on a deadly chemical incident in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 19, 2007, which destroyed T2 Laboratories, a specialty chemical producer. The explosion killed four people and injured 32 others. According to an earlier CSB news release, the accident occurred when T2 mixed more than half a ton of highly reactive sodium metal with other chemicals in a process to make a gasoline additive, creating a 2000-foot-high fireball.

“The T2 explosion is yet more evidence of the need for stricter regulation and oversight of the chemical industry,” said Leo W. Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers. “For eight years the Bush administration ignored calls for stronger chemical process safety rules, and now American workers are paying for those flawed decisions with their lives.”

“The CSB agreed today that their prior recommendations to OSHA were still ‘open,’ but let the issue drop there,” said Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Coordinator, Change to Win. “If the Board persists in flouting its mandate, it will require new leadership to assure that its mission is accomplished.”

"Workers remain exposed to the possibility of these deadly explosions, and the least the CSB can do is to fully investigate these tragic events," said John Morawetz, Sr. Health and Safety Coordinator for the United Food and Commercial Workers international union.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a major report in December 2002, which pointed out serious deficiencies in OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. It called reactive chemical incidents a “significant chemical safety problem,” and said the incidents have the potential for occurring at a wide range of worksites and “can severely affect workers and the public, as well as cause major economic losses and environmental damage.” Reactive chemicals are substances and mixtures that can react or decompose violently during industrial processing.

When Bush administration officials refused to follow the recommendation, the unions petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2003 to amend PSM standard to strengthen its regulation of reactive chemicals and how they should be stored and handled to prevent explosions, fires and toxic releases in communities across America.

The unions have urged OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency to act on reactive chemicals since 1995. They petitioned OSHA for an emergency temporary standard on reactive chemicals after two union members and three supervisors were killed in an April 1995 fire and explosion at Napp Technologies in Lodi, N.J. OSHA responded by adding this issue to OSHA’s “Regulatory Agenda” – admitting the seriousness of the problem, and promising to fix it.

According to the CSB, even before the severe T2 incident in Florida, approximately 249 incidents have occurred since the CSB issued its 2002 Report and Recommendation to OSHA, which killed three people, injured 220 people, and resulted in the requested evacuation of over 24,000 people. Based on a review of limited data, the CSB had identified 167 reactive incidents between 1980 and 2001, resulting in 108 fatalities. Since 1993, when the PSM standard became effective, there have been at least 92 reactive chemical incidents, in many of which – like the T2 incident -- OSHA had no authority to find any violations or order corrections of hazards related to reactive chemical hazards.

The CSB report recommended that OSHA make improvements in the PSM standard to help prevent additional reactive incidents. OSHA officials appointed by President Bush responded by eliminating the PSM revisions from OSHA’s 2002 Regulatory Agenda.  Subsequent investigations revealed that the chemical industry had donated substantial sums to the Bush election campaign, and later included the proposed OSHA standards on a "hit list" of 57 regulations targeted by business groups, was solicited for White House budget officials.

In 2003, the CSB specifically criticized OSHA for failing to implement the Board’s 2002 Recommendation – terming OSHA’s response “unacceptable.”


Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-2446

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222