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Fertilizer warehouses could do more to protect workers

No matter where you work or what you do, there is always some danger that your job presents to you. Few know this better than people who work industrial jobs. For them, their jobs present dangers almost every day. Despite this fact though, they hope that the necessary precautions have been taken to help keep them safe and out of harm’s way.

But investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board say this isn’t always the case when it comes to fertilizer warehouses in states across the nation. Safety investigators came to this conclusion after looking into last year’s deadly fertilizer warehouse explosion in the town of West, Texas that killed 14 people and injured more than 230. What investigators discovered was a number of safety issues that might be present in other warehouses across the nation.

Some of our California readers may remember hearing news reports about the blast that happened on April 17, 2013 when a fire broke out in a warehouse containing ammonium nitrate. According to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the chemical was being stored in wooden bins within the wooden structure. But investigators say it should have been stored in fireproof containers that would have protected it from the fire. On top of that, the building’s structure should also have been made of concrete, which might have contained the blast better.

Investigators also noted that the building lacked a sprinkler system that could have suppressed the fire, which may have given workers more time to exit the building and get to safety.

But it’s not just in Texas where this seems to be a problem. Investigators noted in their report that “many U.S. fertilizer warehouses store ammonium nitrate in wooden bins,” which means workers in facilities across the nation could be in danger and not even know it.

The problem is the “patchwork of federal and state regulations,” explains the safety board’s lead investigator. It also says that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration could do more to prevent accidents that result in death or injury by clarifying the standards for ammonium nitrate storage in facilities. Whatever the reason, many here in San Diego probably hope that the problem gets fixed before another worker is injured or more lives are lost.

Source: Reuters, “Deadly Texas fertilizer warehouse blast preventable: U.S,” Erwin Seba, April 22, 2014

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