Safety News - Business News

OSHA Pledges Crackdown on Repeat Offenders

OSHA administrator John Henshaw says he is authorizing stricter enforcement measures for manufacturers and other employers that repeatedly violate health and safety standards.  The new policy will increase oversight of companies that have received "high gravity" citations, which may include charges of willful violations and a failure to correct previously noted hazards, Henshaw says.   "This policy will put more tenacity and teeth in our enforcement practices," he says.

The plan will require follow-up inspections for all facilities that have received "high gravity" notices, as well as expanded federal inspections at additional sites owned by the company.  OSHA says it will also ask federal courts to enforce citations using settlement agreements.  It will demand that such settlements mandate employers to hire safety consultants, and turn over workplace data regarding other sites.  The agency will seek to publicize these cases as well using local and national media outlets.

Henshaw, a former safety manager at Astaris, says the policy will not change the Bush Administration's emphasis on improving compliance assistance and reducing reliance on OSHA fines. The agency has formed agreements recently with Dow Chemical and other companies to promote increased safety education and outreach (CW, Jan. 22, p. 28).

Democrats and labor groups criticize the administration, however, for decreasing average fines for violations, arguing that companies are often let off the hook.  Senator Jon Corzine (D., NJ) says he is drafting legislation that would increase minimum penalties, including fines and jail time, for repeat offenders.

NEIL FRANZ in Washington , Chemical Week, March 19, 2003

New Jersey Proposes Plant Security Rules

New Jersey officials and Senator Jon Corzine (D.) are lobbying for new state accident prevention rules that they say will improve plant safety, and protect communities from accidents and possible terrorist attacks.  The state's rules would require facilities to install accident prevention technology, and to draft prevention plans.

The rules would be stricter and apply to more facilities than the federal Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule, which requires facilities that store or use certain amounts of hazardous chemicals to draft plans for managing a "worst-case scenario" disaster.  The federal RMP applies to chemicals that are hazardous by themselves; the state rule would also apply to facilities that would be hazardous if some or all chemicals used at the plant were combined.

The New Jersey Chemistry Council says it opposes the rules, in part because chemical firms are already beefing up security.

Environmental groups and the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB; Washington) support the proposal.  CSB member Gerald Poje says that about half the accidents that occurred from 1980 to 2001 involved chemicals not covered under current laws.  The proposed rules would be added to the state's Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act, which the state passed in 1985.

KARA SISSELL, Chemical Week, March 26, 2003

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