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AT 3:45 A.M., ON JULY 30, 1983, VINYL CHLORIDE MONOMER (VCM) UNDER PRESSURE ESCAPED FROM A RAILROAD TANK CAR AT THE LOADING FACILITY WITHIN THE FORMOSA PLASTICS CORPORATION (FORMOSA) CHEMICAL MANUFACTURING PLANT AT BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA. THE RELEASED VCM WAS IGNITED BY AN UNDETERMINED SOURCE, AND A LARGE BILLOWING FIRE ENSUED. AN ADJACENT TANK CAR CONTAINING VCM WAS INVOLVED IN THE FIRE BUT DID NOT RUPTURE VIOLENTLY. TWO PERSONS WERE INJURED SERIOUSLY, TWO TANK CARS WERE DESTROYED, THREE TANK CARS WERE DAMAGED MODERATELY, AND THE LOADING FACILITY WAS DAMAGED EXTENSIVELY. DAMAGE WAS ESTIMATED TO BE $1 MILLION.
THE NTSB RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION: DEVELOP A MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING WITH THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION TO DEFINE THE EXTENT OF EACH AGENCY'S RESPONSIBILITY FOR SAFETY INSPECTIONS OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS LOADING/UNLOADING FACILITIES AT PETROCHEMICAL PLANTS TO ELIMINATE GAPS OR OVERLAPS IN RESPONSIBILITY.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Closed - Acceptable Alternate Action
Baton Rouge, LA, United States
Vinyl Chloride Monomer Release from a Railroad Tank Car and Fire, Formosa Plastics Corporation Plant
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status:
FRA (Closed - Acceptable Alternate Action)
Tank Car Loading and Unloading, Hazmat
Safety Recommendation History
In an effort to be responsive to the Board's concerns, I have instructed FRA inspectors to perform an inspection of the entire loading/unloading area during their inspections for compliance with the Department of Transportation's hazardous materials regulations. Any conditions presenting potential hazards-such as electrical and fire prevention problems-will be forwarded to OSHA for follow-up. Any obvious or immediate safety hazards will, of course, be brought at once to the attention of the facility's operator regardless of which agency's regulations apply.
The Safety Board again notes FRA's contention that the agency has an excellent working relationship with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) which obviates the need for issuance of a formal memorandum of understanding, as suggested in Safety Recommendation R-85-69. The OSHA has responded similarly to the Board's recommendation indicating that the agencies' areas of statutory and regulatory authority are adequately defined. The Safety Board has accepted the agencies' assurance that there is a clear understanding outlined in Safety Recommendation R-85-69. Consequently, that recommendation has now been placed in a "Closed-Acceptable Alternate Action" status.
THE FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION'S PRESENT INSPECTION PROGRAM IS FULLY RESPONSIVE TO RECOMMENDATION R-85-68. AFTER THE FORMOSA PLASTICS INCIDENT, THE FRA CONDUCTED AN INTENSIVE ASSESSMENT OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS SHIPPERS IN THE BATON ROUGE AND NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA AREA. OVER 100 SHIP PER LOCATIONS WERE INSPECTED DURING A TWO WEEK PERIOD. IN ADDITION, WE ESTABLISHED A COMPUTERIZED INSPECTION PROGRAM OF SHIPPERS OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS BY RAIL IN A CONTINUING EFFORT TO KEEP OUR FIELD INSPECTION POINTS CURRENT. IN 1985, FRA INSPECTED 2,728 SHIPPER FACILITIES, A SIX PERCENT INCREASE OVER 1984. FRA ALSO INCREASED ITS FREIGHT FORWARD ER INSPECTIONS BY 26 PERCENT IN 1985, IN RESPONSE TO IN CREASED TRAILER-ON-FLATCAR AND CONTAINER-ON-FLATCAR SHIP MENTS. FRA WILL CONTINUE ITS CLOSE MONITORING OF SHIPPERS, FREIGHT FORWARDERS, AND RAIL CARRIERS ENGAGED IN HAZARDOUS MATERIALS TRANSPORTATION. THESE INSPECTIONS, HOWEVER, DO NOT INCLUDE INSPECTION OF THE LOADING RACKS AND OTHER FIXED FACILITIES AT SHIPPER INSTALLATIONS, SINCE THEY FALL WITHIN THE CLEARLY DEFINED RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION (OSHA). I EMPHASIZE THAT OSHA AND FRA ENFORCEMENT EFFORTS DO NOT OVERLAP, AND AS IN DICATED IN MY LETTER TO YOU DATED NOVEMBER 12, 1985, ANY ATTEMPT TO CREATE SUCH AN OVERLAP COULD ADVERSELY AFFECT SAFETY. SIMILARLY, FRA'S EXCELLENT WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH OSHA OBVIATES THE NEED FOR ISSUANCE OF A FORMAL MEMO RANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING AS SUGGESTED IN RECOMMENDATION R-85-69. AS YOU NOTE, FRA PLAYS A CLEARLY DEFINED ROLE IN ENFORCING THE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS REGULATIONS AT FACILITIES THAT LOAD AND UNLOAD HAZARDOUS MATERIALS. ALTHOUGH THE DE PARTMENT OF TRANSPROTATION UNDOUBTEDLY HAS AUTHORITY UNDER THE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS TRANSPORTATION ACT OF 1974 (HMTA) TO ISSUE RULES COVERING LOADING RACKS AND OTHER LOADING EQUIP MENT AT HAZARDOUS MATERIALS LOADING FACILITIES FOR RAILROAD TRANSPORTATION, IT HAS CONCLUDED THAT SUCH REGULATION IS UNNECESSARY. INSTEAD THE DEPARTMENT PARTICIPATES IN A COMPLEMENTARY ENFORCEMENT SCHEME UNDER WHICH OSHA ADDRESSES THE SAFETY OF THESE PORTIONS OF A PETROCHEMICAL PLANT'S FACILITIES, SINCE OSHA MUST CONSIDER THE OPERATION AND FACI LITIES OF THE ENTIRE PLANT. THE SAFETY BOARD APPEARS TO BE CONCERNED THAT THIS APPROACH MAY LEAVE A "GAP" IN RESPONSI BILITY, AS OSHA'S AUTHORITY COVERS OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY WHILE THE SAFETY BOARD'S "RECOMMENDATIONS ARE NOT LIMITED TO WORK ING CONDITIONS." YOUR CONCERN IS WELL TAKEN, BUT UNFOUNDED; OSHA HAS AMPLE STATUTORY AUTHORITY TO ADDRESS ANY CONDITION OF A PETROCHEMICAL PLANT THAT COULD CAUSE AN UNINTENDED RE LEASE OF A HAZARDOUS MATERIAL. INDEED, THE GREATEST IMME DIATE RISK OF SUCH A RELEASE IS TO THE PLANT'S EMPLOYEES. YOU HAVE MY ASSURANCE THAT THE DEPARTMENT WOULD USE ITS STATUTORY AUTHORITY TO PROMPTLY FILL ANY "GAP" BETWEEN FRA'S AND OSHA'S AUTHORITY, SHOULD ONE EVER APPEAR. SINCE FRA HAS TAKEN ALL THE ACTION NECESSARY TO IMPLEMENT THE INTENT OF SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS R-85-68 AND R-85-69, I WOULD APPRECI ATE YOUR HAVING THEM CLOSED.
The Safety Board cannot agree with the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) request that Safety Recommendations R-85-68 and -69 be reconsidered and closed based on the FRA's belief that current procedures address the issues in these recommendations. The Board is concerned that the FRA might not have understood fully the intent of the Board's recommendation in that FRA's response appears to concentrate on working conditions at loading racks in petrochemical plants over which the Board would agree that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has jurisdiction, although OSHA had not exercised its authority at the Formosa plant since 1976. The Board points out, however, that its recommendations are not limited to working conditions, and as indicated in our recommendation letter of June 17, 1985, the FRA does have responsibility for inspecting railroad loading and unloading facilities at petrochemical plants. The railroad loading facility at the Formosa plant, however, had not been inspected by an FRA inspector siince 1977. In view of the time that had elapsed since either OSHA or FRA had inspected the Formosa plant, the Board remains concerned that the extent of each agency's responsibility for safe inspections has not been adequately defined and, therefore, urges the FRA to reconsider the intent of Safety Recommendation R-85-69. Through correspondence with OSHA, the Board is aware that OSHA intends to initiate a pilot program in the chemical industry with appropriate emphasis on petrochemical plant inspections, including loading facilities. However, since the details of this program have not been made available, it is not possible to determine how comprehensive OSHA's inspection program will be. It may well be that this inspection program will only cover those working conditions over which OSHA has jurisdiction, in which case the intent of Safety Recommendation R-85-68 will not have been met. Since the FRA does have responsibility for inspecting loading and unloading equipment at petrochemical plants, FRA should reconsider the full intent of Safety Recommendation R-85-68. In view of the above, the Safety Board cannot agree with the FRA's request and has placed Safety Recommendations R-85-68 and -69 in an "Open-Unacceptable Action" status.
FRA LTR: THE FRA SHARES THE CONCERN OF THE NTSB THAT THE SAFETY OF PETROCHEMICAL PLANT OPERATIONS MUST BE ENSURED AND THAT MAINTENANCE OF ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT, AND CONTROL OF SOURCES OF IGNITION ARE IMPORTANT FEATURES OF AN EFFECTIVE SAFETY PROGRAM. HOWEVER, WE DO NOT BELIEVE THAT AN FRA INSPECTION PROGRAM OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS LOADING RACKS, WHICH ARE ONLY ONE PORTION OF EACH FACILITY, NOR THE ISSUANCE OF A MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING WITH OSHA, IS NECES SARY OR WOULD EFFECTIVELY AID IN ACCOMPLISHING THE OBJEC TIVE OF PETROCHEMICAL PLANT SAFETY. FRA HAS WORKED VERY CLOSELY WITH OSHA FOR MANY YEARS TO DEFINE CLEAR ROLES FOR THE APPLICABILITY OF OSHA REGULATIONS IN RAIL ENVIRONMENT. IT HAS BEEN AGREED THAT FRA WOULD FOCUS ON THE SAFETY OF RAIL OPERATIONS AS REFLECTED IN HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH THE MOVEMENT OF EQUIPMENT OVER THE RAILS, WHILE OSHA WOULD CON CENTRATE ON HAZARDS IN FIXED FACILITIES, SUCH AS SHOPS AND OFFICE BUILDINGS. FRA ALSO ENFORCES THE DEPARTMENT'S COM PREHENSIVE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS REGULATIONS WITH RESPECT TO THE TRANSPORTATION OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS BY RAIL. IN PAR TICULAR, TANK CAR SAFETY REQUIREMENTS DURING UNLOADING OPERATIONS ARE ADDRESSED IN 49 CFR 174.67. THE REGULATIONS ARE DESIGNED TO ASSURE THE SAFETY OF THESE OPERATIONS AND, THEREBY, HAVE THE EFFECT OF PROTECTING THE EMPLOYEES INVOLVED. DESPITE THESE PROVISIONS, THERE IS NOT NOW, NOR HAS THERE EVER BEEN, ANY DISAGREEMENT OR CONFUSION SURROUND ING THE ISSUE OF JURISDICTION OVER WORKING CONDITIONS AT LOADING RACKS IN PETROCHEMICAL PLANTS--OSHA HAS JURISDIC TION. THE JURISDICTIONAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OSHA AND FRA WAS OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCED IN A POLICY STATEMENT PUBLISHED IN THE FEDERAL REGISTER SO THAT ALL INTERESTED PARTIES WOULD BE INFORMED. I HAVE ENCLOSED A COPY OF THE POLICY STATEMENT FOR YOUR INFORMATION. SINCE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THIS POLICY, WE HAVE HAD A VERY GOOD WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH OSHA REGARD ING RAILROAD SAFETY MATTERS. OUR WASHINGTON STAFF MEETS REGULARLY TO COORDINATE POLICIES ON EMPLOYEE COMPLAINTS AND OTHER ISSUES. IN LIGHT OF OUR GOOD WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH OSHA, WE DO NOT BELIEVE THAT ISSUANCE OF A FORMAL MEMO RANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING WITH OSHA IS APPROPRIATE. THE POLICY STATEMENT HAS BEEN WELL RECEIVED BY THE PUBLIC AND PROVIDES A CLEARLY ARTICULATED STATEMENT OF JURISDICTION. IT HAS BEEN CITED AS AUTHORITY BY BOTH THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH REVIEW COMMISSION AND BY VARIOUS FEDERAL COURTS, PROVIDING A LEGAL AND FUNCTIONAL FRAMEWORK AT LEAST AS EFFECTIVE AS A MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING. OUR DISCUS SIONS WITH OSHA AS A CONSEQUENCE OF RECOMMENDATIONS R-85-68 AND -69 HAVE CONFIRMED THE COMPLETE AGREEMENT CONCERNING OUR RESPECTIVE AGENCIES' ROLE ON INSPECTIONS OF LOADING FACILI TIES. ENFORCEMENT OF REGULATIONS ADDRESSING THE HAZARDS OF CONCERN TO NTSB CLEARLY RESIDES WITH THE AUTHORITY OF OSHA. OSHA HAS INDICATED TO US THAT THEY ARE INITIATING A PILOT SPECIAL EMPHASIS PROGRAM IN THE PETROCHEMICAL INDUSTRY WHICH WILL INCLUDE LOADING FACILITIES. FRA BELIEVES THAT THE CURRENT DIVISION OF RESPONSIBILITY BETWEEN FRA AND OSHA STEMMING FROM OUR RESPECTIVE STATUTORY AUTHORITY FURTHERS SAFETY. AN ADEQUATE SAFETY INSPECTION OF LOADING FACILITIES REQUIRES DETAILED KNOWLEDGE OF ELECTRICAL HAZARDS, WALKING/ WORKING SURFACES STANDARDS, CONSTRUCTION AND FIRE PREVENTION REQUIREMENTS. FRA INSPECTORS DO NOT HAVE THIS EXPERTISE. THEREFORE, ANY ASSERTION BY FRA COULD CREATE CONFUSION OR A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY. IN ADDITION, OUR AUTHORITY UNDER THE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS TRANSPORTATION ACT REGARDING THESE FACILITIES WOULD LIMIT OUR JURISDICTION TO ONLY THOSE FACIL ITIES HANDLING HAZARDOUS MATERIALS. OSHA JURISDICTION REACHES THE SAFETY ISSUES OF LOADING PLATFORMS IN ALL INDUS TRIAL OPERATIONS. FRA FULLY SUPPORTS OSHA'S SAFETY EFFORTS IN THE PETROCHEMICAL INDUSTRY, AND WILL ASSIST IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE. OUR INSPECTORS WILL BE INFORMED OF THESE DEVELOP MENTS AND WILL BE INSTRUCTED TO APPRISE OSHA OF ANY CIRCUM STANCES NOTED DURING THEIR TANK CAR INSPECTION ACTIVITY IN LOADING FACILITIES THAT MAY BE A POTENTIAL HAZARD. FRA HAS CONSIDERED THE ISSUES PRESENTED IN THESE RECOMMENDATIONS AND FOUND PRESENT PROCEDURES THOROUGHLY ADDRESS THEM. FRA BELIEVES THAT RECOMMENDATIONS R-85-68 AND -69 SHOULD BE RE CONSIDERED AND CLOSED.
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