On June 8, a fire broke out at an agricultural fertilizer plant in Hanover, Pa., just 90 minutes from my home. Coincidentally, the very next day, David Michaels, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), shared an update on the work the agency is doing to improve safety in U.S. chemical plants, especially as it related to the devastating April 2013 fire in West, Texas. While the cause of the Hanover fire is still unknown, the one in Texas has been attributed to improper storage of large quantities of ammonium nitrate.

While I applaud Michael’s efforts to address chemical facility safety in response to President Obama’s Executive Order 13650, directing federal agencies to review safety rules at chemical facilities, more needs to be done.


One key factor in preventing accidents like these is clear, consistent regulation regarding the transportation and warehousing of both hazardous and non-hazardous materials. Unfortunately, a misalignment exists between certain National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) fire codes and related OSHA and Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. While this hasn’t received much attention, this disconnect poses a serious threat to public safety, worker safety, property safety and the environment.

This disconnect creates confusion among shippers and customers regarding which industrial packaging materials meet which codes for which products, leading to instances where shipments might meet transportation-related rules but not the latest health and safety standards.

Last week, a consortium of interested parties – the Industrial Packaging Safety Alliance, or PackSafe – sent a letter to Michaels urging OSHA to act. In doing so, we hope to persuade the agency to bring its regulations in-line with the current edition of the NFPA’s fire safety code, NFPA 30, that provides safeguards to reduce hazards associated with the storage, handling and use of flammable and combustible liquids. PackSafe aims to influence legislative and regulatory changes to provide a consistent approach to this critical public safety issue.

In fact, many existing OSHA standards governing explosives like ammonium nitrate, flammable and combustible liquids and hot work date to the early 1970s and are based on fire code guidance from the 1960s. It’s past time to update these regulations. At best, this threatens public safety. At worse, it’s a major disaster waiting to happen. We urge OSHA to work with us to more broadly modernize its regulations and keep the public safe.

McQuaid is a senior adviser to the Industrial Packaging Safety Alliance (PackSafe) and principal at MCQ Management Associates LLC.