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Need OSHA Action on Ammonium Nitrate and Healthcare Workplace Violence, Government Monitor Urges

By Carla J. Gunnin
  • August 16, 2017

Focus is needed on two safety and health priorities: healthcare workplace violence and high-risk facilities that handle hazardous substances such as ammonium nitrate, chief of the Government Accountability Office Gene L. Dodaro has urged Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in a letter.

In the letter, dated June 27, 2017, Dodaro, the Comptroller General of the United States, said that the Department of Labor had 95 open recommendations from the GAO. He noted, “Fully implementing these open recommendations could significantly improve agency operations.” The letter emphasized seven recommendations “as being the highest priorities for implementation,” with two of the recommendations falling under the jurisdiction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Regarding workplace violence, the first recommendation under OSHA’s jurisdiction, Dodaro wrote that the Labor Department “should complete its study on OSHA’s workplace violence enforcement cases in health care, and analyze the results from its Request for Information to determine whether regulatory action is needed.”

Dodaro pointed out that in a report released on March 17, 2016, “Workplace Safety and Health: Additional Efforts Needed to Help Protect Health Care Workers from Workplace Violence,” the GAO outlined a specific recommendation: “To help determine whether current efforts are effective or if additional action may be needed, such as development of a workplace violence prevention standard for health care employers, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to develop and implement cost-effective ways to assess the results of the agency’s efforts to address workplace violence.”

He noted that the Department of Labor agreed with the GAO recommendation. He continued, “To fully implement it, DOL should complete its ongoing study reviewing OSHA’s workplace violence enforcement cases in health care to better understand the obstacles OSHA compliance officers encountered during these investigations and identify factors that led to citations.”

In addition, he wrote, “The agency should also analyze the input received from OSHA’s Preventing Workplace Violence in Healthcare and Social Assistance Request for Information to determine whether regulatory action is needed.”

Regarding the second recommendation under OSHA’s jurisdiction — the enforcement of protections related to ammonium nitrate — Dodaro wrote, “To fully implement our recommendation on high-risk facilities, DOL should take steps to enforce its existing ammonium nitrate storage requirements to help prevent chemical incidents.”

Dodaro cited a GAO report, released on May 19, 2014, “ Chemical Safety: Actions Needed to Improve Federal Oversight of Facilities with Ammonium Nitrate,” and highlighted one particular recommendation: “The Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to take steps to identify high risk facilities working with ammonium nitrate and develop options to target them for inspection.”

OSHA agreed with this recommendation, he noted. Now, he said, the “action needed” to “fully address” the recommendation is that “the agency should implement the planned local emphasis programs that will focus on the safe use and storage of ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia at fertilizer facilities.”

Dodaro noted that, as of April 2017, OSHA officials reported that “implementation of these local emphasis programs has been delayed due to litigation regarding process safety management enforcement in the fertilizer industry.” He said, however, that “[s]ince OSHA’s ammonium nitrate storage requirements in 29 CFR 1910.109(i) are separate from OSHA’s process safety management standard, we believe OSHA could do more to enforce its existing ammonium nitrate storage requirements to help prevent chemical incidents.”

Jackson Lewis attorneys can assist clients in evaluating and implementing health and safety policies.

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