Learning Lessons the Hard Way in West, Texas

In April 2013, an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, exploded, killing 14 people, 11 of those being firefighters. Analyzing the horrific disaster, many safety experts wonder what steps and safeguards could have prevented the tragedy, and most importantly, what steps can safety and plant officials around the U.S. take to keep such disasters from unnecessarily taking more lives.

In inspecting the West, TX, plant after the fact, officials found many oversights, including a lack of sprinkler systems that could have helped keep the fire contained until emergency personnel arrived on the scene. Also missing were walls separating ammonium nitrate and any potential ignition sources in direct violation of regulations requiring this, according to an article by www.croplife.com.

Regulations not enforced are worth next to nothing. The West, TX, plant did not have an OSHA inspection since 1985, a fact not lost on lawmakers post disaster. An OSHA inspection alone could have made a significant difference in how the events unfolded in West. If all of the above safety measures had been in place, the events on April 17 more than likely never would have even happened. In light of the above failures, what else can organizations that utilize dangerous chemicals do to calm fears about their operations with the American public?

Communication with Local Emergency Response Personnel

Fertilizer plants and other facilities where dangerous chemicals are stored should develop communication channels with local emergency response organizations. In this way, responders have an idea of the situation they are going into before their arrival, allowing them to plan accordingly.

Maintain an Overall Awareness of Security

By approaching the storage of such chemicals with security in mind, plant/office officials and the workers there can remain aware of any potential disaster scenarios and respond appropriately. This includes securing holding areas, whether this involves closing gates, locking doors, or something as simple as making sure a valve is closed after use. Following such procedures should make the facility not only safer, but more secure.

Going Forward

One step regulators should take going forward includes adding fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate to the EPA’s list of regulated substances, a step long coming. This, in turn, should help ensure that such tragedies as what happened in West, TX, do not happen again.


For more information about the West, TX, fertilizer plant safety failures, visit: http://www.croplife.com/article/34760/west-fertilizer-disaster-employing-the-lessons-learned
and
http://www.dallasnews.com/news/west-explosion/headlines/20130627-west-fertilizer-blast-could-have-been-prevented-experts-tell-u.s.-senate-panel.ece