Fertilizer dealers spared from OSHA rule

By Stephen Davies

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2015 - Anhydrous ammonia dealers will soon get relief from some federal safety requirements under the year-end spending and tax legislation.

A provision in the bill prohibits the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from applying its Process Safety Management (PSM) rule to agricultural retailers until the Census Bureau has established a new North American Industry Classification System code for Farm Supply Retailers. 

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The legislation requires OSHA to undertake a notice-and-comment rule-making process before applying the regulations. 

Dealers were caught off-guard by OSHA's issuance of a guidance memo this summer that subjected them to the PSM requirements and was said to apply to virtually all retailers who store and sell anhydrous ammonia.

At the recent Agricultural Retailers Association conference in Palm Desert, Calif., retailers complained to a OSHA industrial hygienist about the cost of the requirements. Some said a significant portion of locations with anhydrous tanks - perhaps as much as one-third - would stop carrying the product.

“OSHA is misguided in trying to apply PSM to ag retailers,” Harold Cooper, ARA Chairman and CEO of Premier Ag Cooperative in Columbus, Ind., said Friday.

“OSHA intentionally exempted ag retailers from PSM since the rule's inception in 1992. Forcing us to comply with regulations aimed at manufacturers would cost my business at least $60,000, and not provide any improvement in worker safety - just more bureaucratic red tape.”

After hearing from the ag industry, OSHA gave dealers until July 22, 2016 - a year from the date of the guidance memo - to comply. But the omnibus language extends that deadline until Sept. 30, 2016, and there is no guarantee OSHA will be able to publish a proposed and final rule by that time.

ARA called the spending provision “a significant victory for agricultural retailers” who could have faced more than $100 million in PSM compliance costs, the group said.

“This bill puts a stop sign in front of a runaway agency,” ARA President and CEO Daren Coppock said. “Congress blocked OSHA's imprudent attempt to require ag retailers to comply with a regulation that doesn't fit our industry. We are willing to work with the administration to develop targeted, common-sense regulations to improve safety and security at agricultural retail facilities and surrounding communities.”

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ARA said it “spearheaded a grassroots effort - involving several national and state agribusiness associations and ARA members - to reverse OSHA's rule change. ARA appreciates the bipartisan, bicameral support from House and Senate Appropriators and leadership, who were instrumental in including the language in the bill.”

A court challenge to the PSM requirements is on its way to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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