SCHUMER: OSHA WILL JOIN WITH OTHER FED AGENCIES TO CREATE NEW PROTOCOLS REQUIRING NOTIFICATIONS AND COORDINATION WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENTS & EMERGENCY SERVICES WHEN A COMPANY IS CITED WITH SERIOUS VIOLATIONS; MOVE PUSHED HARD BY SCHUMER COMES IN WAKE OF THE DEADLY CHEMICAL EXPLOSION AND FIRE AT VERLA INTERNATIONAL COSMETIC FACTORY IN NEW WINDSOR
In January, Schumer Launched An Effort To Ensure Local Governments Are Notified When Companies Like Verla International Are Cited For Mishandling Of Flammable Or Hazardous Substances
New Fed Protocol Aims To Ensure Emergency Response Agencies Be Notified Of Serious Health & Environmental Violations So They Can Proactively Prevent Accidents And Prepare To Respond When Accidents And Fires Occur
Schumer: This New Protocol Could Save Lives Of First Responders & Employees
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today announced that after his intervention, representatives from Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA), Environment Protection Agency (EPA), and Homeland Security (DHS) are working in lockstep to create new protocols for communicating and training with local governments and first responders. OSHA, along with EPA and DHS, make up the Chemical Facility Security and Safety Working Group, which will coordinate strategies, activities, policies and communication across governmental entities to address Schumer’s serious concerns that there should be an immediate and more thorough improvement of OSHA’s coordination and communication systems to local municipalities and their respective stakeholders. Specifically, the Working Group is moving forward with a new partnership between the agencies regarding the coordination of communication between state and local governments when there is a serious violation cited. Schumer said the protocol will address the lack of communication with local first responders, safety and training agreements, and coordination on information sharing about all the relevant agencies when a local company is cited for serious violations – like the reported mishandling of Verla International’s use of flammable liquids.
“In January, while in New Windsor, I said our first responders should never be put in a situation where they walk blindly into a hazardous scene, without proper notification by the federal government that a company has been cited for major health and safety violations, specifically, concerning flammable and combustible liquids,” said Senator Schumer. “These new protocols will provide technical expertise and tighter coordination with federal and regional first responder operations to try to make sure the lack of communication and awareness of preexisting issues faced by first responders back in November is a thing of the past. I urge the interagency Chemical Facility Security and Safety Working group to immediately finalize this proposal so federal and local agencies can begin working arm-in-arm to identify and address serious violations before tragedies happen.”
Specifically, the Working Group is tasked with:
- Developing appropriate means for sharing information with first responders to enhance their ability to safely and effectively plan for and respond to incidents in their jurisdiction;
- Developing tools, training, and resources to strengthen State Emergency Response Commissions and Local Emergency Planning Committees;
- Coordinating with agencies beyond DHS, EPA, and OSHA, by working with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and, in this instance, the Food and Drug Administration, as appropriate, to address incidents involving hazardous materials and the effects these incidents have on workers and communities;
- Coordinating information sharing across the interagency community and with state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners; and
- Leveraging limited resources across all levels of government by conducting and facilitating cross-training to raise awareness of other programs.
According to the Times Herald-Record, OSHA reported in April 2017, less than a year ago, that Verla International failed to properly store and ground flammable and highly combusted liquids, resulting in several serious violations. Moreover, since Verla International was a repeat offender and the violations were deemed serious and contributed to dangerous workplace conditions, Schumer brought his concerns directly to OSHA Administrator nominee Scott Mugno last year. Specifically, Schumer urged Mr. Mugno that he wanted a top-to-bottom review of how OSHA handled enforcement and follow-up of Verla International’s history of workplace safety violations. Schumer made it clear to Mr. Mugno that OSHA needs to take a hard look at how it handled enforcement here. In addition, Schumer made it clear that OSHA must continue to serve as the robust enforcer of safety rules in the workplace so that workers, first responders and the public are kept safe from disasters at businesses that deal with hazardous materials, such as combustible and potentially toxic chemicals.
Senator Schumer’s original letter to U.S. Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta appears below:
Secretary R. Alexander Acosta
United States Department of Labor
Dear Secretary Acosta:
I write to urge you to direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish and implement a system of notifying local governments when companies are cited for violations involving flammable and combustible materials that the agency deems serious.
In November 2017, Verla International, a cosmetics company in New Windsor, NY, had a chemical explosion and fire that left 40 workers injured and 1 dead. Official reports have made clear that the cause of the explosion was accidental, but it has also been reported that it could have been easily preventable. Local officials, including the fire department, in New Windsor, were surprised to learn after the incident that only a few months earlier Verla was cited for several serious OSHA violations, some involving the storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids. Our first responders walked blindly into a hazardous scene, which sadly, resulted in the injury of more individuals.
Currently, OSHA does not proactively reach out to local governments regarding the issue of a citation and I believe that should change for matters involving flammable and combustible liquids, which the agency deems serious. Across the country, fire departments range from career to volunteer forces. The more information they have about what is happening in their communities, they better they can ensure firefighters have the equipment and resources to adequately address a potential incident in the future. Further, advanced notification for violations involving flammable and combustible liquids would give local fire departments and emergency response agencies the chance to inspect properties and work in cooperation with a company to proactively prevent accidents.
In the past, OSHA has shown a commitment to improving transparency and communication believing that more information will encourage employers and workers to improve systems and protocols in regards to worker safety. Establishing a system of notifying local governments of serious violations specifically involving flammable and combustible materials would go a long way in strengthening this commitment. I strongly urge you to take immediate action in establishing this system. In the future, this cooperation between federal and local governments could save a life.
Charles E. Schumer