U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) on March 20, 2018, announced that, after his intervention, representatives from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are working to create new protocols for communicating and training with local governments and first responders. OSHA, EPA and DHS will convene the Chemical Facility Security and Safety Working Group (Working Group), which will coordinate strategies, activities, policies, and communication to address concerns that there should be an immediate and more thorough improvement of OSHA’s coordination and communication systems to local municipalities and their respective stakeholders. Specifically, the Working Group is moving forward with a new partnership between the agencies regarding the coordination of communication between state and local governments when there is a serious violation cited. 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 (Verla) use of flammable liquids.
The new protocol is intended to ensure that emergency response agencies are notified when a facility receives a serious health or environmental violation, so that they can proactively prevent accidents and prepare to respond when accidents and fires occur. Specifically, the 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 DHS, EPA, and OSHA by working with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and, in this instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as appropriate, to address incidents involving hazardous materials 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.
In April 2017, OSHA cited Verla’s cosmetic factory in New Windsor, New York for improper storage of flammable liquids that resulted in several serious violations, and in November 2017 there was an explosion and fire at the factory where one worker was killed and 40 people, including seven firefighters, were injured -- a tragedy that may have been avoided had the first responders been notified of the violations and known better how to handle the situation. Senator’s Schumer’s concerns about the lack of communication and notification stem from these events. He states the new protocols “will provide technical expertise and tighter coordination with federal and regional first responder operations to try to make sure the lack of communication and awareness of preexisting issues faced by first responders back in November is a thing of the past.”