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June 19, 2014
Feds taking steps to improve chemical plant safety

OSHA and other federal partners have responded to an executive order to bolster chemical plant safety with an ambitious plan that will include new policies and regulations. Find out what’s been done and what the urgency is all about.

OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies issued a status report on their response to a presidential mandate issued last August in the wake of a devastating explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant. The goal is to avoid similar incidents by reducing the risks of hazardous chemicals to workers, communities, and responders. Among other changes, the plan calls for tougher criminal penalties and fines for companies that refuse to comply with OSHA regulations.

OSHA notes that the report is a milestone, not an end point, and that much work remains to be done. Going forward, future action will focus on these priorities:

  • Strengthening community planning and preparedness,
  • Enhancing federal operational coordination,
  • Improving data management,
  • Modernizing policies and regulations, and
  • Incorporating stakeholder feedback and developing best practices.

The report on improving safety was praised by the chemical industry, including the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates. But some groups advocating for stronger regulations say the plan doesn’t go far enough. They’re demanding that the federal government come up with a stronger set of regulations.

Are you in compliance with OSHA rules for managing hazardous chemicals?

OSHA’s process safety management standard for highly hazardous chemicals (PSM) addresses hazards associated with storing, manufacturing, handling, or moving certain chemicals on-site.

PSM requires a comprehensive program that integrates technologies, procedures, and management practices. The key provision of PSM is a process hazard analysis based on a compilation of process safety information. The analysis is a review of what could go wrong and what safeguards must be implemented to prevent releases of hazardous chemicals.

The standard mandates:

  • Written operating procedures,
  • Employee training and participation,
  • Pre-start-up safety reviews,
  • Evaluation of the mechanical integrity of critical equipment,
  • Contractor requirements, and
  • Written procedures for managing change.

Also required are:

  • A permit system for hot work,
  • Investigation of near misses,
  • An emergency action plan,
  • Compliance audits at least every 3 years, and
  • Trade secret protection.

For more information about process safety management, consult 29 CFR 1910.119.

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