Launch of National Emphasis Program For Chemical Facilities Seen as Imminent

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to launch its chemical facilities national emphasis program soon, possibly as early as August, agency and industry officials told BNA.

Currently, OSHA operates the pilot emphasis program in its Region I office in Boston, Region VII office in Kansas City, and Region X office in Seattle.

The program aims to verify that process safety elements have been documented and implemented at a number of different types of facilities. These include manufacturers of explosives, any facilities that use ammonia or chloride, and any industry category containing facilities that have previously been cited under OSHA's process safety management standard (41 OSHR 69, 1/27/11).

The agency has also indicated it plans to continue conducting inspections of oil refineries under the new chemical facility program as it brings its separate national emphasis program for refineries to a close due to resource constraints. OSHA plans to combine the emphasis programs.

An updated chemical emphasis program is currently under internal review and is “expected to be released soon,” Jesse Lawder, an OSHA spokesman, told BNA in a July 13 e-mail.

An OSHA official provided a briefing on the chemical facility enforcement program's progress to industry representatives attending the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates' Chemical Sector Security Summit earlier this month, Bill Allmond, vice president of government relations for the association, told BNA July 12. Allmond indicated that OSHA could be ready to launch the national program in August.

To date, the agency has conducted 207 inspections in the pilot emphasis program and issued the majority of its citations, 750, under its process safety management standard. The second-most-cited standard is OSHA's lockout/tagout standard (29 C.F.R. 1910.147), accounting for 52, Lawder said.

More than 40 percent of the inspections took place at ammonia refrigeration facilities, and nearly 20 percent did not result in citations, he said. OSHA inspectors averaged an estimated 120 hours per inspection, Lawder added.

Reactive Chemical Hazards

OSHA is also continuing to draft its compliance directive for reactive chemical hazards, Lawder wrote.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board recommended in 2002 that OSHA revise its process safety management standard to include the reactive chemicals. Then in 2007, after an explosion at T2 Laboratories in Jacksonville, Fla., that killed four workers, CSB attributed the accident to a failure to account for reactive chemical hazards at the site.

OSHA announced it would issue a compliance directive to address reactive chemicals under the process safety standard in 2009, but that schedule has now been pushed back to 2012, the agency told BNA in March (41 OSHR 219, 3/10/11).

“Development of this reactive chemicals directive uses the same resources as the other OSHA [process safety management] activities and will be completed as resources allow,” Lawder said.

By Greg Hellman