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OSHA Enforcement Directive Addresses Hazardous Chemicals

spray from aerosol can

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released a new enforcement directive that clarifies the standards for chemical safety. The directive took effect on Jan. 26.

The process safety management standard is intended to keep workers safe from hazardous chemicals, flammables and explosives. The process safety management standard applies based on the quantities of certain chemicals present at the worksite. When the standard applies, OSHA requires employers to perform a compliance audit at least every three years.

In question-and-answer format, the enforcement directive explains how employers can determine whether the standard applies in specific situations. For example, it confirms that an employer storing aerosol products in metal containers, such as hairspray or deodorant, at a warehouse must comply with the standard if the total quantity of flammable gases is greater than 10,000 pounds.

The standard could apply to chemical production facilities, petroleum refineries, explosives manufacturers, warehousing facilities and sanitary services. It does not apply to retail stores, oil or gas well drilling operations, or worksites with flammable liquids that are transferred or stored in atmospheric tanks, including 55-gallon drums, and that are kept below their normal boiling point without chilling or refrigeration, according to Heather MacDougall, an attorney with Morgan Lewis in Miami and former chair of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

“The most common chemical that falls under the process safety management standard is ammonia,” said Travis Vance, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Charlotte, N.C. “A company must have 10,000 pounds of ammonia or more at the facility for the process safety management standard to apply.”

The directive does not amount to a change in law or regulations. It “does not require the regulated community to adopt any practices, operations or processes beyond those which are already required by the Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) Act or regulations promulgated under the OSH Act,” MacDougall said.

Nevertheless, employers should “consider whether they have defined their process boundaries consistent with the standard’s definition of ‘process’ and OSHA’s interpretations,” MacDougall said. “Stronger enforcement of the process safety management standard is a priority of OSHA.”

Workers suffer more than 190,000 illnesses and 50,000 deaths annually related to chemical exposures at the workplace, according to OSHA.

“Preventing chemical accidents involves coordinating management practices, procedures and technology. That coordination begins with a process hazard analysis to review what can go wrong and evaluate possible safeguards, and coordination with contractors, planning for emergencies and training employees,” MacDougall said.


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