Fertilizer Plant Explosion: A West, Texas Tragedy

Ammonium Nitrate storage and protocols cam under investigation at the West Fertilizer CompanyOn Wednesday April 17,2013, the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas exploded. Fifteen people were killed including an EMT, eight local volunteer firefighters, and a Dallas firefighter. Reports have revealed more than 200 people were injured. The explosion was linked to the improper handling and storage ammonium nitrate

Located in West, Texas, West Fertilizer Company supplies chemicals to farmers, including multiple kinds of fertilizer. The company was founded in 1962 and is owned by Adair Grain Inc. The owner is a lifelong resident of West, Texas. The company issued a statement stating they are working with investigators to uncover facts connected to the tragedy.

When the plant exploded, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had not inspected the facility since 1985, a fact key to the overall investigation.  According to news reports, the company had 270 tons of ammonium nitrate on site. Ammonium nitrate is a common material in fertilizer, and it is highly flammable and dangerous. Federal law requires any business holding more than a ton of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate to report their inventory to the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano has reported the West Fertilizer Company failed to follow protocol.

West Fertilizer Company has been cited twice by federal agencies since 2006. In 2012, the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration fined West Fertilizer $5,250 for storing anhydrous ammonia in tanks lacking proper warning labels. The agency originally fined West Fertilizer Company $10,000 but reduced the fine after the company took corrective action. In 2006, the EPA fined company owners $2,300 to correct issues related to failing to file a risk management program plan on time.

The explosion caused millions of dollars in damage. Homes, public schools, and other property were severely damaged. Nearly two weeks later investigators are still searching for clues regarding the source of this tragic explosion.

Tornado TRUTHS and MYTHS

TornadoA tornado is a violent rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. Most tornadoes have wind speeds less than 110 miles per hour however; the most violent tornadoes are capable of wind speeds of up to 300 mph. They can destroy large buildings, uproot trees and hurl vehicles hundreds of yards. They are often referred to as twisters or cyclones.

TRUTH:  In an average year, in the United States there are 1,200 tornadoes causing 70 fatalities and 1,500 injuries nationwide.

More than 500 tornadoes typically occur in the central part of the United States (known as the Great Plains) every year and is why it is commonly known as “Tornado Alley”. Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana all make up Tornado Alley.

MYTH:  Areas near lakes, rivers, and mountains are safe from tornadoes.

TRUTH:  No place is safe from tornadoes.  A tornado near Yellowstone National Park left a path of destruction up and down a 10,000-foot mountain. 

MYTH:  The low pressure with a tornado causes buildings to explode as the tornado passes overhead.

TRUTH:  Violent winds and debris slamming into buildings cause most structural damage.

MYTH:  Windows should be opened before a tornado approaches to equalize pressure and minimize damage.

TRUTH:  Leave the windows alone. The most important action is to immediately go to a safe shelter.

In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials. Be alert to changing weather conditions, and look for approaching storms.  Look for the following danger signs:

  • Dark often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large dark low-lying cloud, especially if it rotating
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train
  • If you see approaching storms r any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.


MYTH:  If you are driving and a tornado is sighted, you should turn and drive at right angles to the storm.

TRUTH:  The best thing to do is to seek the best available shelter.  Many people are injured or killed when remaining in their vehicles.

MYTH:  People caught in the open should seek shelter under highway overpasses.

TRUTH:  Take shelter in a sturdy reinforced building if possible.  Overpasses, ditches, and culverts may provide limited protection for a tornado, but your risk will be greatly reduced by moving inside a strong building.

Tornadoes can happen at any time of the year and at any time of the day. In the southern states, peak tornado season is from March through May. Peak times for tornadoes in the northern states are during the summer. A few southern states have a second peak time for tornado outbreaks in the fall. Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.

The Importance of Personal Protective Equipment: Deadly Dozen #12, Unsafe Act

Personal Protective Equipment is vital to all first responders.First responders, clean-up operations staff, as well as other workers face various challenges and risks at their work sites daily. It is critical workers and employers consider safety a top priority. Employers should ensure workers have access to all necessary resources to perform their jobs safely. An essential resource all workers should have access to is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to reduce employee exposure to hazards. OSHA’s standards and regulations regarding PPE can be accessed at, http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/personalprotectiveequipment/. Failure to wear proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is one of construction’s deadly dozen. From time to time, this blog will focus on issues related to construction’s deadly dozen, unsafe acts and unsafe conditions.

Workers must realize their safety is ultimately their responsibility. Construction employees should always make certain their personal protection equipment is appropriate for their tasks. Workers should research, read, and react with inquiries regarding their concerns related to PPE. Common reasons employees tend not to wear PPE include:

➢ PPE is not comfortable.

➢ Appearance of equipment.

➢ Failure to realize the importance of PPE and its relation to job tasks.

➢ Not comfortable in weather; too hot

➢ Lack of training.

According to OSHA, employers have a responsibility to train workers on how to properly handle Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

➢ Use protective equipment properly,

➢ Be aware of when personal protective equipment is necessary,

➢ Know what kind of protective equipment is necessary,

➢ Understand the limitations of personal protective equipment in protecting workers from


➢ Train workers to put on, adjust, wear, and take off personal protective equipment, and

➢ Maintain protective equipment properly.

Common types of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) include the following items listed below according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

➢ Head protection –hard hats

➢ Foot protection –safety shoes

➢ Eye/face protection –safety glasses

➢ Hearing protection -ear plugs, muffs

➢ Hand protection -gloves

➢ Respiratory protection

➢ High-visibility clothing