Spotlight Shines on Plant Safety

Efforts underway could significantly revamp process safety policies, regulations and standards

By Lynn Bergeson, regulatory editor

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Chemical plant safety is once again in the limelight due to some high profile and very public catastrophes. On January 3, 2014, a federal working group created by the Obama administration’s Executive Order (EO) 13650 issued a set of preliminary options intended to improve chemical plant safety and security. This is a priority topic commanding considerable attention and readers should be aware of and engaged in these developments. This column explains why.

Agencies are considering whether to update the Process Safety Management standard.


Call for Improved Safety
A little over a year ago, the world was riveted by a major explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer warehouse. Fifteen people were killed and 160 injured in one of the worst chemical facility disasters in history.

In response to the blast, President Obama signed EO 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security. The EO established the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group. The EO tasks the working group with considering options to improve and modernize key policies, regulations and standards to enhance the safety and security of chemical facilities. The group includes representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Justice, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and other federal agencies. Each of these bodies has had significant regulatory engagement in chemical safety management.

Preliminary Options
The working group developed a preliminary list of options for improving chemical facility safety and security for further discussion and comment. According to OSHA, the recommendations will serve as a starting point for additional stakeholder discussion. The group offered nine sets of options across several categories and requested comment on each, including mandatory new safeguards. These options comprise “clusters” of issues; actions to address these will have broad and enduring implications for many businesses in the chemical community. The options are:
•    Improving the safe and secure storage, handling, and sale of ammonium nitrate;
•    Process safety improvement and modernization;
•    Coverage of additional hazardous chemicals or categories of chemicals under process safety and security regulations;
•    Chemical reactivity hazards;
•    Explosive chemical hazards;
•    Oil and gas facilities;
•    Coverage of bulk storage of flammable liquids under process safety and security regulations;
•    Process and hazardous chemical security; and
•    Identifying facilities covered under existing process safety and security regulations.

Request for Comment
The working group requested comment on examples of where implementation of the same or similar options have succeeded; information or data that would characterize the positive impacts the options might have, including additional benefits; potential limitations or unintended consequences of the options described; methods for implementing the options, including methods for potentially increasing benefits or reducing costs; and alternatives to the options that could achieve substantially the same result.

It’s apparent from the list of options that the agencies comprising the working group are considering additional and new regulations. For example, the working group states that “[t]he agencies are considering whether to initiate rulemakings for updating the PSM [Process Safety Management] standard and RMP [Risk Management Program] rule.  The EPA and OSHA have collaborated on implementation of these programs, and are considering a number of options for modernizing regulations, policy and guidance that would maintain parallel requirements and ensure harmony between the regulations.” The agencies also are considering expanding the scope of chemicals regulated under the PSM standard and RMP rule.

The workings of the interagency taskforce are critically important to the chemical community and the industries it serves. This type of regulatory “gap analysis” will require significant engagement from regulated sectors to ensure the working group is fully informed and able to make prudent decisions.

Although the comment period closed in March, the solicitation for public comment document is a must read as it provides a useful summary of the federal regulation of chemical facilities and offers significant insight into where new regulatory authority may be directed.


bergeson-color.jpgLYNN BERGESON is Chemical Processing's Regulatory Editor. You can e-mail her at lbergeson@putman.net

Lynn is managing director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that concentrates on conventional, biobased, and nanoscale chemical industry issues. She served as chair of the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (2005-2006).

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