Warehouse operators must follow the same chemical safety rules as refineries when they store large quantities of boxes of aerosol cans containing consumer products, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reiterated in a letter to a New Jersey safety consultant.
If the total weight of the flammable gases, such as butane and propane, in all the stored aerosol cans exceeded 10,000 pounds, then the process safety management rule’s trigger weight of 10,000 pounds applied, the agency said in a rule interpretation letter released last month.
The hazardous gases wouldn’t be in large tanks or bottles, but in thousands of aerosol cans where the gases serve as propellants for such consumer goods as hair spray, deodorant, and shaving cream.
For warehouse operators, compliance can mean consulting manufacturers’ online safety data sheets that show how much flammable gas is contained in each individual product to determine if their warehouse contains a threshold amount of a regulated chemical, John Auger, vice president of engineering and regulatory compliance for Brook Warehouse Corp. in Bridgewater, N.J., said.
If the threshold is reached, that triggers a host of OSHA requirements for worker training, emergency procedure, and documenting how the goods will be handled.
The letter makes it clear OSHA hasn’t changed its position that warehouses storing consumer goods should be covered by chemical safety rules, despite skepticism from some warehouse operators and attorneys on the need for such measures.
“OSHA is putting out a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” employer-side attorney
The interpretation letter was in response to a safety consultant’s question on whether the agency’s “process safety management” standard for handling hazardous materials applies to warehouses (29 C.F.R. 1910.119).
OHSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its rule interpretation.
‘Not Really Processing’ Chemicals
Warehouse operators handling consumer goods typically just store boxes of products and move them off and on trucks, Brett Mears, president of the warehousing firm Palmer Logistics in Houston and board chair of the International Warehouse and Logistics Association, said. They don’t open containers or mix chemicals.
“Our position is that we’re not really doing processing,” Mears said.
Dreux agreed that moving sealed cans isn’t processing. “It is a finished product,” the attorney said.
But OSHA considers handling and storage to be processing, Auger said. That means industry must follow requirements for documenting how potentially flammable goods are handled and stored if the materials are covered under the process safety management rule.
Fire Codes, Environmental Regs
While established warehouse operators are aware of PSM requirements, newcomers to the business may be surprised that common household products can trigger the OSHA rule, Auger said.
Adding to the confusion is that retail stores, often with large storage areas, are exempted from the OSHA PSM rule, Auger said.
Three years ago, when OSHA asked small businesses about changes to the PSM rule, warehouse operators tried convincing OSHA to exempt warehouse operations handling closed containers of products.
The logistics association made the case that warehouses were already complying with local and state fire and building codes, such as well as mandates for fire-prevention sprinkler systems, as well as state and federal environmental protection regulations.
OSHA listened, however the rule didn’t change, Auger said.
When OSHA inspects general warehouses, the agency rarely cites PSM violations. OSHA enforcement records show.
In fiscal year 2019, of the 351 federal inspections of general warehouses (NAICS 493110) only one company was cited for a PSM hazard, generating a $34,098 fine for four violations.
The most common hazards cited at warehouses involved driving and maintaining forklifts—104 citations with fines totaling $350,406.