The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is fining the parent company of the West Fertilizer plant that exploded $118,300 for 24 workplace violations, including unsafely handling and storing two dangerous chemicals, reports the Dallas Morning News.
West Fertilizer Co.’s stockpile of one of those chemicals, ammonium nitrate, is what fueled the deadly and destructive explosion after a fire broke out after a workday had already ended. State fire authorities have not been able to determine a cause of the fire.
OSHA’s fines and violations were announced Thursday morning by Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate’s environment and public works committee. Boxer, a California Democrat, said OSHA couldn’t publicize the findings itself because of the federal government’s ongoing partial shutdown.
“So I’m stepping in here so as a result of my telling you these things, another explosion could be prevented,” Boxer said.
Boxer said OSHA found that West Fertilizer Co. failed to train and license its forklift operators, didn’t pressure test replacement hoses on chemical tanks, had inadequate relief valves, did not have an emergency response plan and also didn’t have required fire extinguishers.
“All of these things are pretty much standard operating procedure,” Boxer said.
She also said that OSHA’s investigation isn’t complete. The fire and explosion prompted the federal agency’s look at the West plant – its first since 1985. Boxer said the agency is woefully understaffed to adequately oversee all workplaces. She said to ask Texas’ Republican lawmakers, who largely oppose government regulations and support cutting federal spending, about giving OSHA more resources.
“I don’t think they’re willing to spend any more to put more cops on the beat,” she said.
Meanwhile, the government shutdown has stalled overarching federal efforts at improving chemical safety and investigating the incident. Deadlines set by President Barack Obama for Cabinet members and agency heads to review and overhaul regulations, safety practices, data-sharing and emergency response won’t be met.
Many countries have banned or strictly regulate fertilizer ammonium nitrate because of its explosive nature. But in the United States, it can be purchased by the ton and receives little coordinated oversight and regulation.