US safety officials urge extra care with ammonium nitrate

10 February 2014 21:34 Source:ICIS News

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US workplace safety officials on Monday asked the fertiliser industry to take special care in dealing with the handling and storage of ammonium nitrate (AN), citing the related April 2013 explosion at a Texas distribution facility that killed 15 people.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said in a notice to some 7,000 fertiliser-related companies across the country that those who produce, store and handle AN should ensure the safety of those materials and be alert to risks posed to employees, emergency responders and area residents.

The 17 April 2013 explosion of AN stockpiles at the West Fertiliser facility in West, Texas, killed 12 emergency response personnel along with three civilians and injured 200 residents of the town, which suffered some $230m worth of damage.

 OSHA cited the owners of West Fertiliser with 24 major safety violations.

The special alert issued on Monday by OSHA was in cooperation with the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) and The Fertiliser Institute (TFI) and urged that employers “who store and handle hazardous substances like ammonium nitrate to ensure the safety of those materials - not just for workers at the facility but for the lives and safety of emergency responders and nearby residents”.

In a letter to fertiliser producers and distributors, OSHA assistant secretary David Michaels said that “I am calling on you today to take the necessary steps to prevent tragic ammonium nitrate incidents”.

Michaels’ letter also provided links to OSHA best-practices recommendations for AN and related safety resources.

OSHA said the special alert to AN producers and distributors was in keeping with President Barack Obama’s 1 August 2013 executive order that set up a task force of multiple federal agencies to develop safer chemicals handling procedures.

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By Joe Kamalick