Federal agencies

Michaels: PSM update years away, stronger penalties needed

David Michaels testifies
Photo: C-SPAN

Washington – OSHA lacks a “credible deterrent” to prevent chemical facilities from operating unsafely, and an update to the agency’s Process Safety Management Standard is years away, OSHA administrator David Michaels said during a Senate committee hearing Dec. 11.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a joint hearing with the Environment and Public Works Committee to inquire about the progress OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency have made in fulfilling obligations under an Executive Order issued in 2013 and directed at improving chemical facility safety and security.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) grilled Michaels and Mathy Stanislaus, head of EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, on when their agencies would complete all EO directives. Although Michaels and Stanislaus both said their agencies are on track to meet internal deadlines, they hesitated to give specific dates.

Michaels said a PSM update would be at least five years away, and Stanislaus said an update to EPA’s Risk Management Plan Rule would be proposed sometime in 2015.

Congressional action to allow OSHA to issue stronger penalties would help better protect workers and ensure employers are reducing risks, Michaels said. “To large employers – especially petrochemical plants – it’s not even the cost of doing business,” he said of the current penalty levels, adding that one chemical industry executive told him OSHA is viewed as a “very inexpensive consultant.”