Pittsburgh – A United Steelworkers (USW) health and safety expert testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works today to support and offer recommendations on implementing President Obama’s executive order to improve chemical facility safety and security.
The Senate committee’s hearing was titled “Preventing Potential Chemical Threats and Improving Safety: Oversight of the President’s Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security.” James Frederick, USW assistant director of the union’s health, safety and environment department, addressed the four goals and implementation of the executive order.
Obama’s order set up a Working Group that is co-chaired by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The order’s goals are to improve operational coordination with state and local partners; enhance federal agency coordination and information sharing; modernize policies, regulations and standards; work with stakeholders to identify best practices; and implementation of the executive order.
“The President’s executive order is extremely important for our members because they suffer the consequences when employers and regulations do not do enough to prevent catastrophic releases and explosions,” said USW International Vice President At Large Carol Landry, who heads the union’s chemical sector. “It is important that the Working Group do all it can to reach its goals and implement the executive order.”
Frederick’s testimony was based on the union’s experience in handling chemical hazards and responding to chemical incidents and near misses.
“Our members’ experiences have demonstrated the importance of federal agency coordination and information sharing,” Frederick said. “At one facility where the local union identified health and safety hazards, three agencies were approached and each one passed responsibility to the next. It took much time and effort for an adequate response, which left the community at risk far longer than was necessary if the agencies had collaborated.”
Frederick urged the Working Group to develop and promote the use of safer chemical processes and to involve workers in a meaningful way to plan for, prevent and respond to an accidental release or incident.
“The recent chemical spill in Charleston, W.Va., and the massive chemical explosion in West, Texas, illustrate how important it is for the Working Group to change the handling of chemical hazards and response to chemical accidents,” Landry said. “These accidents needlessly cost lives, injure people and damage property. They all can be avoided.”
Other USW recommendations are discussed in Frederick’s testimony, which can be found HERE.
The USW is the largest industrial union in North America with 850,000 members in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. The union represents workers employed in energy, paper and forestry, metals, rubber, chemicals, glass, health care and the service sector.