Citations Against Fracking Supplier Highlight OSHA Concern On Chemical Safety

OSHA’s recent citations against a New York supplier of plastic balls used in hydraulic fracturing, alleging process safety management (PSM) violations and other hazards, appears to underscore the agency’s heightened attention to safety in the large-scale use of chemicals, with one OSHA official lodging concern about the storage or use of more than 1,000 pounds of formaldehyde. The citations also allege combustible dust dangers, a key issue OSHA has tried to regulate.The agency began investigating A. Hyatt Ball Co. Inc. plant in Fort Edward in October 2014, in response to complaints, with inspectors identifying 48 alleged violations of workplace safety and health standards, resulting in $105,200 in proposed fines issued this month. OSHA’s Albany area office initiated the probe.

OSHA has been under pressure in recent years to address safety in chemical storage and usage, and co-chairs a multi-agency task force on chemical facility safety and security created by executive order after the massive West, TX, fire and explosion at a fertilizer processing plant (see related coverage). Agency chief David Michaels recently emphasized the issue, noting in an OSHA staff meeting that OSHA’s budget request for fiscal 2016 includes an increase of more than $5 million and 23 staff members to implement President Obama’s Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security Executive Order.

Funds would also be used to “modernize” OSHA’s PSM rule and other chemical-related standards, and to develop guidance materials and strengthen enforcement efforts at chemical facilities, he said.

OSHA is currently exploring a potential rulemaking to revise the federal PSM regulations (see related story).

A. Hyatt Ball manufactures custom-sized resin balls used in the petroleum industry, according to an April 13 OSHA statement. “Our inspection identified a disturbing number of violations. A. Hyatt Ball lacks basic safety and health programs to prevent fires, explosions or an uncontrolled release of highly hazardous chemicals, including formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer and can cause allergic reactions to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract,” said Kim Castillon, OSHA’s area director in Albany.

“The ball manufacturing process requires the storage and use of up to 1,900 pounds of a flammable formaldehyde solution,” Castillon said. “When storing or using more than 1,000 pounds of formaldehyde in a chemical process, the company has a responsibility to protect its employees with an effective Process Safety Management program.”

OSHA claimed that the plant lacked such a program, and alleged the presence of combustible resin dust; flammable liquids improperly stored and transferred; no audible fire alarm and fire-suppression system; and locked and obstructed exit routes. “All of these violations increased the risk of employees being killed, injured or unable to escape from a fire or explosion,” OSHA said.

“Protecting its employees must be an active, ongoing process for A. Hyatt Ball,” Castillon said. “The company must correct not only the chemical, fire and explosion hazards, but also the wide range of violations that expose its employees to falls, crushing injuries, chemical burns, lacerations and eye and face injuries.”

 An official with A. Hyatt Ball did not respond to a request for comment by press time. — Christopher Cole (ccole@iwpnews.com)