I'm impressed, actually - I thought the scale of this disaster would mean that OSHA's investigation could take up to a year, but they've reached the citation phase after only six months.

I wrote about industrial disasters involving ammonium compounds (specifically, ammonium nitrate) here, and also discussed President Obama's Executive Order regarding chemical safety initiatives here. Also included in that second link are the main points of the inter-agency safety memo put together by OSHA, EPA and ATF.

Today I saw the news that Adair Grain, Inc., which does business as West Fertilizer Co., has been issued 24 serious violations as a result of OSHA's investigation into the explosion that claimed the lives of 15 people, on April 17 of this year. You can read the letter of citation here - this is available for public viewing.

Upon reading the letter, my big takeaways are these:

Storage, Storage, Storage

West Fertilizer Co. was not storing their ammonia compounds correctly - neither the anhydrous ammonia nor the ammonium nitrate were stored according to regulations or best practice. There was a lack of hazard communication and guarding regarding the anhydrous ammonia storage tanks, and the ammonium nitrate was not stacked correctly. It was also stored in such a way that it was able to contaminate adjacent areas, increasing the fire hazard.

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Safety Policy

Based on what I'm seeing in the list of citations, West Fertilizer lacked adequate policies for the following types of hazards:

  • Respiratory (employees not fit-tested before being required to wear respirators)
  • Confined Spaces (the facility was not evaluated to identify permit-required confined spaces - VERY BAD)
  • Emergency Response (inadequate emergency planning for very real scenarios related to the handling and storage of ammonia compounds, and the available fire-fighting equipment was not adequate to handle such scenarios)
  • Energy Control (better known as Lock-out/Tag-out, which is one of the most frequent OSHA violations in most types of industry)
  • Hazard Communication (also known as "Right to Know," in which employers are required to inform their employees of specific hazards - chemical hazards in particluar. Come on. This is just getting ridiculous.)

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All told, the fines associated with these violations total $118,300. West Fertilizer Co. has until November 7 to provide OSHA with documentation of their abatement actions or to request more time for abatement.

Something happened that caused a fire (I'm guessing faulty wiring, based on the citations), and storage conditions surrounding the ammonium nitrate made it easy for that fire to spread. The lack of emergency preparedness made it impossible to get it under control before the explosion.

An ounce of prevention...