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Chemical | Federal agencies

Chemical facility safety – updated

A new report outlines the steps OSHA intends to take in the near future

June 22, 2014

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OSHA plans to move forward on an update of its Process Safety Management Standard (1910.119) and pursue other potential rule changes within the next year – all part of an interagency federal effort to improve safety and security at chemical facilities, the agency stated in a June 6 report to President Barack Obama.

Last year, Obama issued an Executive Order directing federal agencies and departments to improve chemical facility safety following a series of recent tragedies, including the April 2013 explosion that killed at least 14 people at a fertilizer plant in West, TX.

The report was written by representatives from the Department of Labor, the Department of Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency, who chair the workgroup Obama tasked with leading the safety improvement effort.

OSHA’s plans

Within the next year, OSHA intends to initiate a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act review of its proposal to update the PSM standard.

Based on information received during a recent comment period for the PSM rulemaking, the agency will consider expanding coverage and requirements for reactive chemical hazards, covering oil and gas drilling, and requiring coordination between chemical facilities and emergency responders, among other initiatives.

Ammonium nitrate, in particular, will receive attention in the next year. The explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, TX, occurred when ammonium nitrate stored at the facility detonated, according to Chemical Safety Board investigators. The chemical compound was stored in wooden bins – a practice prohibited in other countries.

OSHA said it could address ammonium nitrate hazards through an updated Explosives and Blasting Agents Standard that would conform with voluntary consensus standards on safe handling practices.

A more comprehensive PSM standard also may address ammonium nitrate. The rule could be updated to include the compound as a reactive chemical hazard or by adding it to the rule’s list of highly hazardous chemicals, or both.

OSHA said it intends in the next year to form an alliance with the fertilizer industry, emergency response organizations and other government agencies to develop solutions for promotion of best practices regarding ammonium nitrate safety.

In addition, the agency said it will host public meetings to gather input on an emergency response and preparedness standard. The first is scheduled for July 30. Twelve of the people killed during the explosion in West, TX, were firefighters responding to the blaze.

Because EPA’s Risk Management Plan Rule is similar to OSHA’s PSM standard, many of the steps listed in the June 6 report involve OSHA and EPA coordinating to ensure the rules complement one another. This includes a plan to jointly develop process safety terminology guidance by fiscal year 2016.

The report also indicates OSHA is planning to work with Congress on strengthening the agency’s monetary and criminal penalties. Current dollar amounts for OSHA penalties have not been significantly updated in four decades; changing this would require an act of Congress.

Several stakeholders in the chemical manufacturing and fertilizer industries applauded the release of the report, giving particular praise to the workgroup’s outreach efforts and some of the proposed regulatory changes.

“Millions of Americans live near or work in chemical facilities that pose a risk to their safety and health. The recommendations in the report could improve the health and safety of every one of them,” Charlotte Brody, vice president for Health Initiatives for the labor and environmental partner organization BlueGreen Alliance, said in a press release.

 

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