The ammonium nitrate fire and massive explosion in West, Texas, killed 15 people and injured more than 250 others in 2013. (CSB photo)

OSHA Chief Calls for Higher Penalties

In his testimony before two Senate committees, Dr. David Michaels recommended indexing OSHA's penalties for inflation and increasing criminal penalties "to provide a credible deterrent."

Leaders of OSHA and EPA testified last week before two U.S. Senate committees about federal agencies' progress in strengthening regulations that apply to chemical facilities, based on the West, Texas ammonium nitrate explosion, as well as the DuPont chemical plant release in LaPorte, Texas, in November 2014, and other recent incidents.

The Senate HELP Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee heard testimony from Dr. David Michaels, OSHA's chief, and Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, on Dec. 11. Michaels explained that OSHA is in the final stages of forming an alliance with the fertilizer industry and detailed how the agency plans to update its Process Safety Management standard.

He recommended indexing OSHA's civil penalties for inflation, saying they are "much weaker than those under the Clear Air Act's RMP program," which addresses similar hazards. He said indexing OSHA's penalties for inflation and increasing criminal penalties will "provide a credible deterrent."

Stanislaus' testimony covered federal agencies' progress in updating their regulations in the wake of the West explosion. He explained that EPA is developing online training modules for emergency planning committees to ensure they are prepared for chemical emergencies, as President Obama's Executive Order 13650 directed. The order was issued in August 2013 in response to the West incident.

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