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March 26, 2018
OSHA to establish alert system to notify first responders of serious safety and environmental violations
By Ana Ellington, Legal Editor

Following the deadly chemical explosion and fire at Verla International cosmetic factory in New Windsor, New York, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer pushed hard in January for a new federal protocol aimed to ensure local emergency responders are notified of serious violations involving flammable liquids and chemical hazards.

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The senator’s office announced last week that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will create a system for notifying local first responders when it cites a facility for serious violations involving chemical hazards. The Agency will also share the facilities’ lists of chemicals.

OSHA will work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop the new protocols for communicating and training with local governments and first responders. The three agencies make up the Chemical Facility Security and Safety Working Group, which will coordinate strategies, activities, policies, and communication across governmental entities.

According to the senator, the protocol will address the lack of communication with local first responders, safety and training agreements, and coordination on information sharing about all the relevant agencies when a local company is cited for serious violations—like the reported mishandling of Verla International’s use of flammable liquids.

The Chemical Facility Security and Safety Working Group is tasked with:

  • Developing appropriate means for sharing information with first responders to enhance their ability to safely and effectively plan for and respond to incidents in their jurisdiction;
  • Developing tools, training, and resources to strengthen State Emergency Response Commissions and Local Emergency Planning Committees;
  • Coordinating with agencies beyond the DHS, EPA, and OSHA, by working with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and, in this instance, the Food and Drug Administration, as appropriate, to address incidents involving hazardous chemicals and the effects these incidents have on workers and communities;
  • Coordinating information sharing across the interagency community and with state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners; and
  • Leveraging limited resources across all levels of government by conducting and facilitating cross-training to raise awareness of other programs.

There is no timetable set for when the new notification system will be completed.

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