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As you may already know, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing changes to the Risk Management Plan (RMP) regulations under Section 112 (r) of the CAAA (40 CFR 63).  Organizations such as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ (AIChE) Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) and the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) have been pushing for improvements to a program that hasn’t changed since the original promulgation in 1996, in spite of significant improvements internationally.

Following an explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, Texas in 2013, an Executive Order required agencies to improve chemical safety.  The proposed revisions made several changes to the accident prevention program requirements, including:

  • An additional requirement for the process hazard analysis (PHA) required for Program 2 and 3 processes, including improvements in incident investigation root cause analysis, third-party audits and analysis of safer technologies;
  • Enhancements to the emergency preparedness requirements;
  • Increased public availability of chemical hazard information; and
  • Several other changes to certain regulatory definitions and data elements submitted in the RMPs.

The first item above may be the most significant change for those with Program 2 or 3 RMP Plans.  Sometimes an incident investigation may not really get to the root cause, hence the push to strengthen the requirement for root cause analysis, particularly when a near-miss can provide meaningful insight before a catastrophe occurs.  Now, there are some manufacturers who go through a rigorous root cause investigation when responding to an incident or near-miss.  However, that is not common.

Having outside eyes can be helpful; and honestly, preventing catastrophic accidents is well worth the cost.

Similarly, the audit requirements of the rule are to be strengthened with the objective of identifying process safety risks and preventing incidents.  The EPA believes that if the Audit is conducted by an outside professional or organization, the audit is likely to be more thorough and investigatory.  Now, you may think I’m biased, but it is easy for a compliance officer in an organization to be too close to the forest to see the trees.  I mean, we all get comfortable with the status quo to some degree and it could be easy to overlook things that maybe ought to get attention.  (Frankly, this is the same argument that I offer in regard to EHS audit in general.)  I don’t mean to paint a broad brush criticism, but I have often encouraged prospective clients to have at least one audit team member  not be employed at the facility being audited and perhaps not even from the organization, such as a corporate compliance person.  Having outside eyes can be helpful; and honestly, preventing catastrophic accidents is well worth the cost.

You might be thinking  of course the big chemical companies need to perform this work, and, they have the “deep pockets” to pay for it.  Well, the West, Texas accident demonstrates that it’s not just for the “big boys.”  That accident changed the dynamic of the small town and impacted the lives of many, many people.  Please, be wise in dealing with chemical and process safety.  You know what they used to say, “a penny wise and a pound foolish.”  You don’t want to deal with having to explain the death or serious injury to the family of one of your employees. Now we need to see if OSHA is going to follow suit in regards to their PSM standards, 29 CFR 1910.119.