OSHA Seeks Public Input on Chemical Safety Changes

By Roy Maurer Dec 4, 2013

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is putting forth a request for information (RFI) seeking public comment on potential revisions to its process safety management standard and related standards, as well as other policy options to prevent major chemical incidents, the agency announced Dec. 3, 2013.

The RFI is in response to President Barack Obama’s executive order 13650, which seeks to improve chemical facility safety and security, issued in the wake of the April 2013 West, Texas, ammonium nitrate explosion that killed 15 people.

In addition to comments on its process safety management (PSM) standard, OSHA is seeking input on potential updates to its explosives and blasting agents, flammable liquids and spray finishing standards, as well as potential changes to PSM enforcement policies.

The agency will use the public’s responses to determine what actions, if any, to take.

After the RFI appears in the Federal Register, the public will have 90 days to submit written comments. Interested parties may submit comments at www.regulations.gov, the Federal eRulemaking portal, or by mail or fax.

What Is Process Safety Management?

OSHA issued its PSM standard in 1992, in response to several catastrophic chemical-release incidents that occurred worldwide. The agency said the incidents spurred broad recognition in the safety community that accidental releases of highly hazardous chemicals can result in multiple worker injuries or fatalities. “The main objective of the PSM standard is to prevent or minimize employee exposure to the hazards associated with uncontrolled releases of highly hazardous chemicals,” it explained.

The PSM standard is a comprehensive management program for highly hazardous chemicals that integrates technologies, procedures and management practices to assure safety, according to OSHA. One of the key components of the PSM standard is the requirement that employers perform a process hazard analysis, defined as a “careful review of what could go wrong and what safeguards employers must implement to prevent uncontrolled releases.” The PSM standard also mandates:

  • Written operating procedures.
  • Employee training.
  • Pre-startup safety reviews.
  • Evaluation of the mechanical integrity of critical equipment.
  • Written procedures for managing change.

Additionally, the standard requires a permit system for hot work, investigation of incidents involving releases or near misses of covered chemicals, emergency-action plans, compliance audits at least every three years and trade-secret protection.

“While the PSM standard has been effective in improving process safety in the United States and protecting workers from many of the hazards associated with uncontrolled releases of highly hazardous chemicals, major incidents have continued to occur, prompting this request for information,” OSHA said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

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