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Chemical Safety Board calls for changes to OSHA’s PSM standard


Photo: Chemical Safety Board

Washington — OSHA should amend its guidance on the control of reactive hazards element of its standard on process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals (1910.119), the Chemical Safety Board says.

CSB makes 15 recommendations in a recently released final report on a deadly December 2020 chemical explosion at the Optima Belle facility in Belle, WV. One worker died after the explosion of a dryer that was removing water from the compound. The blast also led to serious property damage and a shelter-in-place order for the surrounding community.

According to the report, the dryer was over-pressurized in part because facility management “did not adequately understand the potential for, analyze the hazards of, or detect and mitigate the self-accelerating thermal decomposition reaction.” In addition, the company for which the facility was producing the chemical didn’t transmit sufficient PSM data to Optima Belle, and both organizations had “ineffective” PSM systems.

CSB renewed its call for OSHA to “broaden” the PSM standard “to cover reactive hazards resulting from process-specific conditions and combinations of chemicals,” as well as hazards from self-reactive chemicals.

The report details six safety lessons for the industry:

  • Don’t rely solely on chemical hazard information from Safety Data Sheets when using the chemical at elevated temperatures or pressures, or with other temperatures with which the chemical could react. Information can vary significantly between suppliers. Be prepared to perform additional hazard analyses or to seek additional publicly available information.
  • Ensure chemical hazard information identified from previous incidents, studies, and lab tests are maintained and organized in a manner that will allow workers to be aware of the information and its appropriate use.
  • Be aware of the multiple tools capable of identifying whether a chemical has thermal or reactive hazards that could trigger a process safety incident.
  • Make sure hazards involving new processes are controlled by evaluating process safety information on involved chemicals, examining the laboratory and pilot-scale process, and consult site safety and process engineering personnel to determine if the process can be safely conducted at the tolling facility at full production scale with existing equipment.
  • Create and maintain a robust safety management system to prevent reactive chemical incidents.
  • Know that outsourcing the production or processing of a hazardous material doesn’t outsource the responsibility for process safety.

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