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Chemical Safety Board calls for stronger standards on reactive chemicals

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Photo: Chemical Safety Board

Washington — “It is past time for regulators to fully recognize the hazards presented by reactive chemicals,” Katherine Lemos, chair and CEO of the Chemical Safety Board, says in a new video in which the agency calls on OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen their standards on these substances.

The 15-minute video, released April 28, details CSB’s investigation of a fatal May 2019 incident at AB Specialty Silicones in Waukegan, IL. An explosion and fire at the manufacturing plant killed four workers. The agency determined that two incompatible chemicals were mixed during production of an emulsion product, producing flammable hydrogen gas that triggered the explosion.

In the video, lead investigator Vonzella Vincent says AB Specialty Silicones lacked a process safety management program at the time of the incident.

“In processes that rely on operators to gather and mix chemicals, it is critical that companies reduce the risk of human error by making it easy to do the job right and hard to do the job wrong,” Vincent says. “In this case, that could have been as simple as having written procedures that specify storing incompatible chemicals in separate areas and in different-colored containers.”

CSB offers multiple recommendations.

To OSHA:

  • Amend the standard on process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals (1910.119) to achieve more comprehensive control of reactive hazards that could have catastrophic consequences.
  • Augment the process hazard analysis element of the standard to explicitly require an evaluation of reactive hazards.

To EPA:

  • Revise the accidental release prevention requirements to explicitly cover catastrophic reactive hazards that have the potential to seriously impact the public, including those resulting from self-reactive chemicals and combinations of chemicals and process-specific conditions.

“Closing the regulatory gap will prevent further tragic incidents and save lives,” Lemos says in the video. “Together, we can impact safety for our chemical industries, our workers, our community and our environment.”

During a Dec. 9 National Safety Council webinar on OSHA’s current activities, agency officials said OSHA intends to conduct a stakeholder meeting regarding its standard on PSM.

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