OSHA Takes Closer Look at High-Risk Chemical Plants, Refineries

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By Sam Pearson

Chemical facilities and oil refineries covered under OSHA’s Process Safety Management program could see closer attention from inspectors under new instructions issued in the final days of the Obama administration.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration explained the changes in a directive, “PSM Covered Chemical Facilities National Emphasis Program” (CPL 03-00-021) dated Jan. 17 and released Jan. 23.

Changes to Emphasis Program

The changes renew a National Emphasis Program for facilities with highly hazardous chemicals above specified quantities and for the first time incorporates oil refineries under the same document. The document also instructs agency inspectors to use data from EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) to identify sites for closer attention.

Other changes include specifying that fireworks manufacturing facilities are considered explosives manufacturing plants under the initiative. OSHA updated its guidelines for inspecting fireworks manufacturers, storage facilities and stores in 2011 (CPL 01-01-053).

Under OSHA’s Process Safety Management program, facilities with covered chemicals above certain levels are required to take actions to avoid the chances of an unplanned release. OSHA issued 727 violations totaling a proposed $3,094,187 in fines for violations of the PSM program in 2016, according to agency data.

The emphasis program supersedes a program from November 2011, the document said.

Impact Unclear

The directive said that inspections associated with the program “will begin immediately in all regions.” But, with OSHA and the Labor Department without Senate-confirmed leadership, it is unclear if the document will lead to a change in OSHA policies.

Jennifer Gibson, vice president of regulatory affairs at the National Association of Chemical Distributors, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 24 the group would warn member companies they might see increased PSM inspections.

“This is one action item OSHA was able to take immediately and appears to be a way for the agency to leverage its inspection resources to make sure EPA RMP facilities are covered,” Gibson said in an e-mail.

The emphasis program could be one tool the outgoing OSHA had to focus inspections after the change in administration reduced the chance its rulemaking to update the PSM program (RIN:1218-AC82) would continue, Gibson said.

An American Chemistry Council spokesman declined to comment Jan. 24, citing the political uncertainty at OSHA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Pearson in Washington at spearson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The document is available at http://src.bna.com/lEe.

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