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Chemical Plants Seek to Evade Workplace Safety Regulations with Stealthy Farm Bill Provision

Louisiana Plant Explosion Lawyer | Louisiana Chemical Plant Explosion Lawyer

Chemical plant workers could soon face even more danger on the job, thanks to a stealthy industry effort to commandeer the Farm Bill recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The legislation has yet to pass the U.S. Senate. But if the Farm Bill becomes law with that provision intact, thousands of chemical plants throughout the nation could escape vital workplace safety regulations.

Farm Bill Provision Targets Regulations Inspired by Deadly West, Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion

The little-known Farm Bill provision targets regulations enacted by the Obama Administration following the catastrophic fertilizer plant explosion that leveled nearly the entire town of West, Texas in 2013.

Along with destroying the community, the blast tragically killed 15 people, including several first responders, and injured more than 200 others.

While the cause of the disaster was ultimately attributed to arson, investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board uncovered numerous problems at the facility that contributed to the destruction of West, Texas.

Shockingly, the fertilizer plant had been able to avoid any inspections by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the decade leading up to the explosion.

Proposed Exemptions Could Lead to a Repeat of the West, Texas Tragedy

The overhaul of chemical safety rules launched by the Obama Administration in the wake of the West, Texas tragedy was intended to prevent similar calamities in the future.

Now, however, chemical retailers are seeking exemptions from many of those regulations, asserting that they are redundant and costly.  According to the Houston Chronicle, the Agriculture Retailers Association, a powerful industry lobbying group, is leading the effort.

Critics charge that the decision to use the Farm Bill as a legislative vehicle for its endeavors reflects a desire on the part of the group to conceal the campaign from the public.

They also warn that any such exemptions could lead to a repeat of the West, Texas disaster.

“They’re trying to make sure that OSHA never has jurisdiction over places like the facility in West,” Rena Steinzor, a University of Maryland law professor who specializes in chemical regulations, told The Houston Chronicle “If there’s not a flashlight shining on this dark corner, an explosion like West is going to happen again.”

Regulatory Confusion Could Allow Chemical Manufacturers to Evade Safety Regulations

The Houston Chronicle investigation also suggested that any exemptions granted to chemical retailers could be easily hijacked by chemical manufacturers.

That’s because the chemical industry has successfully blocked the enactment of OSHA guidance that would have clearly defined the difference between chemical manufacturing plants and chemical retail facilities.

In the absence of clear standards, chemical manufacturers could claim the exemptions merely by declaring themselves retail stores.

“This could effectively eliminate the entire chemical manufacturing sector from coverage of the (OSHA) standard, jeopardizing the safety and health of chemical facility workers,” Labor Department officials wrote in a document obtained by The Houston Chronicle.

Will the Farm Bill Scheme Become a Roadmap for Evading Workplace Safety Rules?

Most ominous, the successful enactment of the Farm Bill’s chemical plant exemptions could give other industries an effective roadmap for evading any workplace safety rules they oppose.

“If this is successful, it would be the first case of an industry saying, ‘We understand this is important, but we want to be exempted,’ This really is a precedent you don’t want to set,” Jordan Barab, OSHA’s deputy assistant secretary in the Obama administration, told the Chronicle.

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Having won over $1 billion for our clients, including more than 1,000 workers in Texas, Louisiana, and across the United State who were injured or tragically killed in connection with the worst plant, pipeline, and refinery explosions in recent memory, our Undefeated Plant Explosion Lawyers have the resources and knowledge to hold negligent companies accountable and ensure that our clients receive full compensation for all of their injuries and losses.

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