Hot Topic: OSHA’s Crackdown on the Fertilizer Industry

In an effort to address the dangers related to exposure to fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate and agricultural anhydrous ammonium, OSHA recently launched a program to enforce and emphasize standards under the existing OSHA regulations. The Regional Emphasis Program (REP), which began on October 1, 2018, is now in effect in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

During the first 90 days of the program, OSHA is encouraging employers to educate themselves and bring their facilities into compliance. OSHA will still respond to complaints, hazards, fatalities, and referrals during this time, with the enforcement of the new program commencing at the end of the 90 day outreach period. Businesses in this region have until December 31, 2018, to ensure they are in compliance.

Preventable Tragedies: A Cautionary Tale

Why is OSHA taking such measures? Workers employed in the fertilizer storage, mixing/blending, and distribution industry can face hazards that may lead to serious injury, illness, and death. In October 2013, a fire and subsequent explosion at a fertilizer company in Texas claimed the lives of 15, including 12 first responders. OSHA cited the owners of the company with 24 serious safety violations, including exposing workers to ammonium nitrate fire and explosion hazards.

This incident, compounded by others in years prior, underscored the need for employers who store and handle hazardous substances like ammonium nitrate to ensure the safety of those materials for employees, emergency responders and nearby residents.

Your Rights & How to Prepare

OSHA’s goal is to make the workplace safer, not to “catch and penalize” employers. While OSHA offers compliance assistance to all employers at no charge, educational information on hazards and methods for control, and information regarding anhydrous ammonia standards, storage, and handling, as well as prevention outreach programs, many do not take advantage of those resources for fear of repercussions. OSHA has implemented the 90-day outreach period to encourage employers to proactively seek their guidance on current policies and procedures, but there are also several things you can do on your own.

Some action steps you can take in preparation:

  • Determine which of your own product formulas, as well as your vendor products, contain fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate CAS # 6484-52-2 and agricultural anhydrous ammonium CAS # 7664-41-7.
  • Have a qualified regulatory expert review the safety data sheets (SDSs), GHS labels and secondary container labels to ensure the necessary disclosures and safety information are provided for employees and end users.
  • If you update the SDS for your products, while you are not required to notify your customers until they order new product, being proactive and notifying them anyway demonstrates your intention to address OSHA’s safety concerns, not just comply with the letter of the law.

Doing the above signals to your customers, your employees and to OSHA your commitment to employee safety. Should OSHA visit your facilities during the enforcement stage (after December 31st), having taken these steps will make the process easier. It may also reduce or eliminate any potential fines.

If you are still looking for answers, please reach out to our Regulatory experts and we can help.  Contact us today to learn more about how we can improve your approach to compliance.