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Add Industry Perspective To The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

June 30, 2021
The CSB needs a process safety expert on its board

The Biden Administration in late April nominated three people to serve on the board of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). Right now, the board only has a single member, chair Katherine Lemos, who has a background in aviation safety; she was nominated by President Trump in 2019 and confirmed by the Senate in 2020. If the Senate approves the three, the board still will remain one short of its full roster of five members.

Here’s some background on the three nominees:

• Sylvia E. Johnson now works for the National Education Association, currently heading its legislative efforts for the safe reopening of schools. Before that, she served in the legislative affairs department of the United Auto Workers union, where she was involved in occupational safety and health issues. Her educational background includes a masters in biomedical engineering with a concentration in industrial hygiene.

• Steve Owens is an attorney specializing in environmental, health and safety issues at a law firm. Previously — from 2009–2011 — he served as assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Prior to that, he was Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

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• Jennifer Sass is a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, where she has worked since 2001. Her brief includes explaining the science behind toxic chemical regulation and advocating for regulations consistent with science, health policy and environmental law. She holds a post-doctoral certificate in human health and the environment.

The bolstering of the CSB board is long overdue. The nominees have a strong interest and background in human health and safety. They lack any experience in process safety, though.

CSB staff, not board members, investigate incidents, identify the causes and report lessons to be learned. However, the board sets direction and priorities, so an appreciation of process safety issues certainly would help the CSB best meet its mission.

This gap prompted the American Chemistry Council to issue a statement:

“Process safety experience is critical to an effective Chemical Safety Board. We are disappointed that the current slate of nominees lack sufficient experience and familiarity with industrial process safety practices or chemical manufacturing operations...

“The CSB has the important job of conducting complex investigations of major accidents and making recommendations, which is why it must be managed by qualified board members. We urge the Administration to work with industry and other stakeholders on advancing nominees with the requisite skills and experience to successfully carry out the CSB’s valuable work.”

I don’t recommend withdrawing the current nominees. Instead, I urge the Biden Administration to fill the remaining slot on the board with someone intimately familiar with the chemical industry and its particular safety issues. Plenty of eminently qualified candidates exist. For starters, someone from the White House might want to look at authors of process-safety-related articles in Chemical Processing and presenters at the annual International Symposium of the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M University.

MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at [email protected]
About the Author

Mark Rosenzweig | Former Editor-in-Chief

Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's former editor-in-chief. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' magazine Chemical Engineering Progress. Before that, he held a variety of roles, including European editor and managing editor, at Chemical Engineering. He has received a prestigious Neal award from American Business Media. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from The Cooper Union. His collection of typewriters now exceeds 100, and he has driven a 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk for more than 40 years.

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