Chemical Federal agencies

Process Safety Management: An update

OSHA, other agencies take steps to improve chemical facility safety

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The Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group – which comprises several federal agencies, including OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency – published an update June 9 on the actions the federal government has taken to comply with a 2013 Executive Order issued by President Barack Obama.

The working group was established as part of the Executive Order in an effort to improve communication and coordination between agencies. Among its actions:

  • OSHA and EPA are taking steps to update their Process Safety Management Standard and Risk Management Plan, respectively.
  • Stakeholder comments and latest practices on ammonium nitrate are being incorporated into an updated advisory, which the group intends to reissue.

Obama issued the Executive Order following an April 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West, TX, that killed 15 people and injured more than 160.

“Safety and security are a shared commitment,” OSHA administrator David Michaels said in a June 9 blog post. “We are committed to preventing more incidents like this one in West, TX, and ensuring that every worker comes home to their family safe and healthy at the end of every shift.”

The updates

As an update to its PSM standard, OSHA published a memorandum June 8 announcing it had adopted a chemical concentration test similar to that of EPA to determine whether a chemical is at or above the threshold quantity listed under the standard.

Appendix A of the PSM standard does not include concentrations for 126 listed chemicals, making it difficult to determine if the threshold quantities for those chemicals apply to their undiluted form or to mixtures in which the chemicals are present. For more than 20 years, OSHA stated in the memo, the threshold quantities applied only to “pure” (chemical grade) chemicals. This can be ambiguous.

To clarify the issue, the memo stated that OSHA’s new enforcement policy would be EPA’s “1 percent” test. This requires employers to calculate if the total weight of a chemical without a specified concentration under PSM’s Appendix A is at 1 percent or greater. If so, and the weight meets the threshold limit and the chemical has a partial pressure of 10 millimeters of mercury or greater, the process is covered under PSM.

All previous OSHA policy documents, letters of interpretation or memoranda related to the maximum commercial grade policy were rescinded.

In a separate memo, also issued June 8, OSHA clarified how to interpret certain language regarding the enforcement of PSM’s recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices, also known as RAGAGEPs.

RAGAGEPs can include consensus standards “widely adopted” in codes by federal, state or municipal jurisdictions, or certain organizations’ consensus documents and recommended practices.

Language in RAGAGEPs similar to “shall” and “must” mean the practice is a mandatory minimum requirement to control a hazard, and “shall not” or “prohibited” means unacceptable practices. Deviations from “shall” or “shall not” could lead to a violation.

However, language similar to “should” reflects a preferred approach, compliance with which is considered acceptable. If an employer chooses not to follow approaches the RAGAGEP says “should” be followed, the employer must document that the alternate approach is a good engineering practice and is as protective as that prescribed under the RAGAGEP.

OSHA action

Other recent actions OSHA has taken to improve chemical facility safety and security:

  • Conducted two public meetings on developing an emergency response and preparedness standard
  • Published a Request for Information seeking input on improving its Process Safety Management Standard
  • Initiated a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act panel on the agency’s PSM standard
  • Updated an advisory on safe storage, handling and management of ammonium nitrate
  • Formed an alliance with the fertilizer industry, emergency response organizations and other working groups to better provide guidance and training resources

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