IN WAKE OF RECENT FATAL CHEMICAL EXPLOSION AND FIRE AT COSMETIC FACTORY, SCHUMER VISITS NEW WINDSOR TO CALL ON FEDS TO IMMEDIATELY IMPROVE THEIR COORDINATION & COMMUNICATION SYSTEM WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENTS, FIRE DEPARTMENTS & FIRST RESPONDERS, WHEN A COMPANY IS CITED WITH SERIOUS VIOLATIONS, ESPECIALLY WITH FLAMMABLE AND COMBUSTIBLE MATERIALS
Schumer Launches Effort To Ensure Local Governments Are Notified When Companies Like Verla International Are Cited For Mishandling Of Flammable Or Hazardous Substances
Senator Says Emergency Response Agencies Should Always Be Notified Of Serious Health & Environmental Violations So They Can Proactively Prevent Accidents and Prepare To Respond When An Issue Arises
Schumer: Feds Notification System To Local First Responders For Serious OSHA Violations Needs A Complete Makeover
Standing at New Windsor Town Hall, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called for an immediate and more thorough improvement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) coordination and communication system protocols to notify local governments, fire departments and first responders and other public utility entities if and when a local company is cited for serious violations – like the reported mishandling of Verla International’s use of flammable liquids. Schumer said in this specific case, local first responders were put in a situation where they walked blindly into a hazardous scene, not knowing that the company was cited with serious violations involving hazardous or combustible materials– like the reported mishandling of Verla International’s use of flammable liquids. He further said that advanced notification would give local emergency response agencies and fire departments the chance to inspect and prevent accidents, as well as better information to the same agencies when responding to a fire, explosion or other emergency.
“Our first responders should never, ever be put in a situation where they walk blindly into a hazardous scene, without proper notification by the federal government that a company has been cited for major health and safety violations concerning flammable and combustible liquids,” said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer. “That is why I am urging OSHA to learn from this lack of communication and ensure that local governments are notified when companies are cited for mishandling flammable or combustible liquids at a business in their area. Local governments and first responders must know where there are hazards so they can prepare and train for potential emergency situations. Simply put, if a federal government agency has information that would be beneficial to our first responders, community, and protect our workers they should have an obligation to work arm-in-arm with state and local governments to both inform them and address serious violations before tragedies happen.”
According to the Times Herald-Record, OSHA reported in April 2017, less than a year ago, that Verla International failed to properly store and ground flammable and highly combusted liquids, resulting in several serious violations. Moreover, since Verla International was a repeat offender and the violations were deemed serious and contributed to dangerous workplace conditions, Schumer brought his concerns directly to OSHA Administrator nominee Scott Mugno in November. Specifically, Schumer urged Mr. Mugno that he wanted a top-to-bottom review of how OSHA handled enforcement and follow-up of Verla International’s history of workplace safety violations. Schumer made it clear to Mr. Mugno that OSHA needs to take a hard look at how it handled enforcement here. In addition, Schumer made it clear that OSHA must continue to serve as the robust enforcer of safety rules in the workplace so that workers, first responders and the public are kept safe from disasters at businesses that deal with hazardous materials, such as combustible and potentially toxic chemicals.
Schumer will be joined by Steve Neuhaus, Orange County Executive, Vini Tankasali, Orange County Fire Coordinator/Dep. Emergency Services Commissioner, Rick Hovey, New Windsor Police Chief, Michael Bigg, New Windsor Ambulance Corps Chief, Terry Ahlers, Acting Newburgh Fire Chief.
"Residents should be guaranteed a safe work environment and the Orange County Department of Emergency Services supports any initiative that would provide additional information to increase the safety of our first responders. Knowing the history of a company’s record on workplace safety relative to hazardous materials would be beneficial to us.” Orange County Commissioner of Emergency Services Brendan Casey.
Senator Schumer’s letter to U.S. Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta appears below:
Secretary R. Alexander Acosta
United States Department of Labor
Dear Secretary Acosta:
I write to urge you to direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish and implement a system of notifying local governments when companies are cited for violations involving flammable and combustible materials that the agency deems serious.
In November 2017, Verla International, a cosmetics company in New Windsor, NY, had a chemical explosion and fire that left 40 workers injured and 1 dead. Official reports have made clear that the cause of the explosion was accidental, but it has also been reported that it could have been easily preventable. Local officials, including the fire department, in New Windsor, were surprised to learn after the incident that only a few months earlier Verla was cited for several serious OSHA violations, some involving the storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids. Our first responders walked blindly into a hazardous scene, which sadly, resulted in the injury of more individuals.
Currently, OSHA does not proactively reach out to local governments regarding the issue of a citation and I believe that should change for matters involving flammable and combustible liquids, which the agency deems serious. Across the country, fire departments range from career to volunteer forces. The more information they have about what is happening in their communities, they better they can ensure firefighters have the equipment and resources to adequately address a potential incident in the future. Further, advanced notification for violations involving flammable and combustible liquids would give local fire departments and emergency response agencies the chance to inspect properties and work in cooperation with a company to proactively prevent accidents.
In the past, OSHA has shown a commitment to improving transparency and communication believing that more information will encourage employers and workers to improve systems and protocols in regards to worker safety. Establishing a system of notifying local governments of serious violations specifically involving flammable and combustible materials would go a long way in strengthening this commitment. I strongly urge you to take immediate action in establishing this system. In the future, this cooperation between federal and local governments could save a life.
Charles E. Schumer