Fire/Explosion Protection / Physical Security / Risk assessment / Security

Chemical Safety Board Makes PSM a Top Priority

Agency wants to modernize process safety management regulations

By Lynn Bergeson, regulatory editor

On December 1, 2014, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) announced that its “Most Wanted Safety Improvement” is to modernize U.S. process safety management (PSM) regulations. Specifically, the CSB notes implementation of key federal and state CSB safety recommendations will result in significant improvement of PSM regulations in the United States. The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. Board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards and safety management systems. (The CSB has suffered internal divisions recently; see: “Turmoil Takes a Toll on Chemical Safety Board.")

The recommendations are extensive and ambitious.

Time for Improvement Is Now
While the CSB notes a number of improvements in PSM regulations have been made since the 1990s, for the most part regulations haven’t been substantively revised to address the passage of time or improvements in chemical management. According to the CSB, recommendations related to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) PSM program and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Risk Management Program (RMP) have been made and some even implemented, but many such recommendations haven’t been fully implemented or likely seriously considered.  By focusing on modernizing U.S. PSM regulations, the CSB is plainly identifying this issue as one of the Board’s most important recommendations-related goals.

According to the CSB, of particular interest are the Board’s recent investigations of major refinery incidents that found PSM and RMP, although written as performance-based regulations, appeared to function primarily as “reactive and activity-based regulatory frameworks that require extensive rulemaking to modify.” The CSB believes this could potentially result in stagnating risk levels, despite technological advances in the U.S. and overseas.

During the CSB’s investigations of recent major refinery accidents, it determined there was no requirement to reduce risks to As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP); there was no mechanism to ensure continuous safety improvement; there was no requirement to implement inherent safety or the hierarchy of controls; there should be an increased role for workers and worker representatives in PSM; and there needs to be a more proactive, technically qualified regulator.

The Obama Administration has pressed for change. In particular, President Obama’s August 1, 2013, Executive Order 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security, has prompted both OSHA and EPA to issue Requests for Information (RFI).
Below is a brief summary of the CSB’s recommendations. For PSM, OSHA should:
•    Expand the rule’s coverage to include the oil and gas exploration and production sector;
•    Cover reactive chemical hazards;
•    Add additional management system elements to include the use of leading and lagging indicators to drive process safety performance and provide stop work authority to employees;
•    Update existing Process Hazard Analysis requirements to include the documented use of inherently safer systems, hierarchy of controls, damage mechanism hazard reviews, and sufficient and adequate safeguards; and
•    Develop more explicit requirements for facility/process siting and human factors, including fatigue.
For RMP, in addition to PSM program-related enhancements mentioned above, the CSB suggests that EPA:
•    Expand the rule’s coverage to include reactive chemicals, high and low explosives, and ammonium nitrate as regulated substances, and to change enforcement policies for retail facilities;
•    Enhance development and reporting of worst-case and alternate-release scenarios; and
•    Add new prevention program requirements, including automated detection and monitoring, contractor selection and oversight, public disclosure of information, and, for petroleum refineries, attributes of goal-setting regulatory approaches.
To view the full list of recommendations related to PSM reform, see,

The recommendations are extensive and ambitious. Time will tell if, in the New Year, the Board and OSHA are able to make PSM modernization a high priority and effectuate much needed changes to PSM regulations.

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

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).