August 6, 2007
Contact: Ted Fitzgerald
Phone: (202) 693-4676
CONCORD, N.H. -- Inadequate and incomplete safeguards against ammonia releases at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Hanover, N.H., Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory have resulted in the issuance of four willful Notices of Unsafe and Unhealthful Working Conditions by the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The Corps was cited for violations of OSHA's Process Safety Management standard, which is designed to prevent or minimize the catastrophic release of large amounts of highly hazardous chemicals -- in this case, 17,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia used in the refrigeration system for the laboratory's Ice Engineering Facility.
Among other things, the standard requires employers to: compile written safety information and operating procedures for -- and conduct hazard analyses of -- the process, equipment and technology using the chemicals; develop clear operating procedures; train employees; ensure the mechanical integrity of the equipment used in the process; and evaluate compliance with process safety requirements every three years.
An inspection by OSHA's Concord area office found that the Hanover facility failed to: collect and update all process safety information; complete, update, maintain and follow through on all process hazard analyses; maintain complete, certified and up-to-date written operating procedures; provide adequate employee training; inspect or test piping and other process equipment; maintain written procedures to manage any changes to the process; document corrective actions taken after a previous ammonia release; and certify that compliance audits were conducted every three years.
"The potential for a release of ammonia is present as long as these and other proper safeguards are not established, followed and maintained," said Rosemarie Ohar, OSHA's area director for New Hampshire. "In this case, management knew for several years that all these requirements were not being met yet did not correct the hazards. Prompt and complete correction is required and must be a priority."
As a federal agency, the Corps must notify OSHA of corrective actions taken and may, within 15 days, schedule a meeting with the OSHA area director to discuss the violation notices, methods of correction, length of abatement periods and interim protective measures for employees. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees. OSHA's role is to assure the safety and health of America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual process improvement in workplace safety and health. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.
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