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OSHA Expands Pilot Chemical Facilities Process Safety Emphasis Program Nationwide

Thursday, December 1, 2011

By Greg Hellman 

The pilot chemical facilities emphasis program has been expanded nationwide in an effort to reduce catastrophic releases of hazardous chemicals, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Nov. 30.

The pilot emphasis program had been operating in OSHA Regions I (Boston), VII (Kansas City, Mo.), and X (Seattle), but the initiative covers all the regions effective Nov. 29, the date of the new directive (41 OSHR 631, 7/21/11).

“Far too many workers are injured and killed in preventable incidents at chemical facilities around the country,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in a Nov. 30 written statement. “This program will enable OSHA inspectors to cover chemical facilities nationwide to ensure that all required measures are taken to protect workers.”

OSHA will target chemical facilities for inspection based on four sources of information: the Environmental Protection Agency's risk management program, explosives manufacturing industry classification codes, its own inspection database, and area office knowledge of local facilities, the directive said.

Number of Programmed Inspections Reduced

The agency has made some changes as it makes the program nationwide. OSHA is reducing the number of programmed inspections each area office must conduct, toughening the qualifications for agency inspectors implementing the program, and requiring those inspectors to verify abatement of previous citations under the process safety management standard (29 C.F.R.1910.119) in the past six years.

Any facility OSHA has inspected within the last two years, either programmed or not, should be exempted, it said. Each region should complete an average of three to five programmed inspections per area office, per year under the emphasis program. Under the pilot program, OSHA directed offices to complete an average of between five and 10.

The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates told BNA in a Nov. 30 e-mail it has maintained regular communication with OSHA on the program.

“Our members, who are predominantly small- and medium-sized chemical manufacturers, are aware of the nationwide NEP and are prepared for it,” Christine Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the association, said. “We are confident that our members will continue to perform well in the inspections.”

The compliance directive also requires state plans to participate in the enforcement program and notify OSHA within two months how their programs will differ from the federal initiative, if at all.

OSHA had previously indicated it could fold its emphasis program for refineries into the chemicals initiative, but an agency spokesman told BNA in a Nov. 30 e-mail that the national chemicals program will not apply to refineries.

OSHA concluded the emphasis program for refineries in September, and the spokesman said the agency is evaluating a large amount of data from that program “as the first step toward determining the Agency's future refinery enforcement approach.”

Inspection Process Described

Under the new program, inspectors will focus on at least one process unit at each plant selected and ask a “dynamic list of questions” to review compliance. OSHA will not disclose those questions ahead of time.

While the pilot program aimed to verify that companies documented and implemented process safety elements at several different types of facilities, the national emphasis program has two categories: those that use ammonia refrigeration and all other facilities that use hazardous chemicals.

Different lists of between 10 and 20 questions are designed for facilities conducting ammonia refrigeration, chemical storage, or chemical processing, the directive said.

“Based on inspection history at refineries and large chemical plants, OSHA has found that employers may have an extensive process safety management program, but insufficient program implementation,” the directive said. “Therefore, [inspectors] should verify the implementation of [process safety management] elements to ensure that the employer's actual program is consistent with their written program.”

Under the pilot program, the majority of citations—750—were issued under the process safety management standard, according to data OSHA released in July. At that point, the agency had conducted 207 inspections under the program.

Safety-Related Documents

Inspectors will also request access to a number of safety-related documents from employers, including their injury and illness logs; a list of all process safety management-covered processes and units; unit process flow diagrams; piping and instrumentation diagrams; and process hazard analysis, among others, the directive said.

Process units will be selected for inspection based on several factors, including the nature and quantity of chemicals involved; incident investigation and near-miss reports; age of the unit; discussions with workers; and potential hazards observed during an inspector's walkaround. An inspector may expand the investigation if hazards outside of the selected unit are observed, the directive said.

In addition, the directive sets new experience requirements for OSHA inspectors implementing the program, depending on what level of inspection they are conducting.

Criteria for the assignment of inspectors includes whether they have prior experience investigating accidents at chemical plants or ammonia refrigeration facilities, prior experience in chemical industry safety, and how extensive either of their experience is.


OSHA's new compliance directive is available at http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_03-00-014.pdf.