New Regulations to Pave Way for Greater IH Role
On April 17, 2013, an explosion at an ammonium nitrate storage and distribution facility in West, Texas, left 15 people dead, including 12 emergency responders, and more than 260 injured. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) would find that the responders were unaware of the hazards at the facility and that the community was unprepared to evacuate in the event of an emergency. Other factors that contributed to the severity of the incident, according to CSB, included poor planning and lack of local coordination.

The West fire and explosion was in the news again this past May, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) concluded its investigation and announced, to the surprise of many, that the fire was intentionally set. While media attention largely turned to the search for suspects, the fact remains that proper implementation of process safety could have reduced or eliminated casualties. Four months after the fire, President Obama issued an executive order establishing the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group. The order tasked a number of government agencies to modernize chemical safety regulations, improve local emergency planning and coordination, and enhance the collection and sharing of information. Under the executive order, OSHA and EPA are working to promulgate new Process Safety Management (PSM) and Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations. While current versions of these regulations already require processes and procedures for ensuring safe chemical handling, production, and storage, both agencies’ new rules will provide ample opportunity for industrial hygienists to participate in process safety. CURRENT REGULATIONS Process safety regulatory action in the U.S. was first authorized by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. OSHA subsequently established its PSM regulation in 1992. EPA published its RMP regulation in two stages, issuing a list of regulated substances and their threshold quantities in 1994 and a final RMP regulation containing risk management requirements in 1996. OSHA’s PSM focuses on protecting workers, while EPA’s RMP focuses on protecting public health and the environment. Together, PSM and RMP form a framework for the prevention of and protection from catastrophic chemical accidents. Industrial hygiene is essential to process safety, which incorporates many aspects of the profession, including the recognition, evaluation, control, and prevention of catastrophic releases of hazardous chemicals or energy from toxic, reactive, and flammable chemicals. At present, a number of industrial hygienists have indirect or moderate involvement in process safety. Their role may be limited to hazard training, accident investigation, and emergency planning and response, but several aspects of the current regulations provide opportunities for industrial hygienists to apply their relevant expertise to process safety. PSM requires the gathering of process safety information (PSI), including toxicity, exposure limits, physical data, and ventilation system design. In many facilities, industrial hygienists already gather and evaluate this information. Other work practices and conditions with which IHs are intimately familiar—process ventilation, exposure, ergonomics, effects of personal protective equipment and clothing, emergency response and planning, hazard communication, and training—can affect process safety conditions. Safety systems such as chemical detection and alarms, and even conditions that may affect employees’ decision-making abilities such as thermal stress, lighting, and noise, are considerations of process safety. All of these systems, conditions, controls, and human factors should be reviewed during a process hazard analysis (PHA). Both OSHA and EPA require a PHA to help identify and analyze potential hazards associated with the processing or handling of hazardous chemicals.
The current PSM regulation also requires that operating procedures address health and safety considerations. Employees must be aware of chemical hazards, engineering controls, administrative controls, personal protective equipment, and signs and symptoms of exposure. Training on these hazards and controls is required initially and then at least every three years.
If industrial hygienists are being left out of process safety, it is a disservice to the safety of workers and the public and a detriment to the IH profession.
EPA’s requirements are more relevant to emergency preparedness. For example, regulated sites that do not have their own emergency response team are required to prepare an emergency action plan and coordinate with local emergency response via their Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), which comprises elected state and local officials; police, fire, civil defense, and public health professionals; environment, transportation, and hospital officials; facility representatives; and representatives from community groups and the media. EPA’s 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act requires the 3,000-plus LEPCs across the U.S. to develop emergency response plans and review them at least annually. For more information or to find your LEPC, visit the EPA website. PSM VS. RMP Although OSHA’s PSM standard aims to protect workers and the EPA RMP regulation is intended to protect the general population and environment, the regulations have many similarities and overlapping requirements. PSM and RMP share the goal of performance-oriented prevention of chemical accidents, and both regulations have common listed chemicals and many comparable threshold quantities. Table 1 compares the current requirements of OSHA PSM and EPA RMP. Notably, both regulations have requirements for PSI, PHAs, written operating procedures, training, incident investigation, emergency planning and response, and compliance audits. A major difference, however, is that PSM regulates processes involving more than 10,000 pounds of flammable gases or liquids. Another difference is that RMP defines requirements for three “program levels,” which EPA has based on processes’ “relative potential for public impacts and the level of effort needed to prevent accidents." In general, companies that fall under RMP program level 3 are subject to OSHA’s PSM standard as well as additional hazard assessment, management, and emergency response requirements.
Table 1. Comparison of OSHA PSM and EPA RMP Requirements
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UPDATING RMP EPA issued a new proposed RMP rule on March 14, 2016. Proposed changes to the RMP regulation will add significantly to requirements for audits, incident investigations, local coordination, emergency response planning and exercises, and information sharing. The proposed rule is essentially divided into two parts: accident prevention and accident mitigation. Under these new requirements, industrial hygienists should expect to become more involved in many elements of process safety. On the prevention side, industrial hygienists’ roles will likely include performing compliance audits; providing worker health and safety insights for process hazard analysis (PHA); reviewing operating procedures; and conducting incident investigations and root-cause analyses. As part of the mitigation piece, industrial hygienists may have more involvement with emergency planning and response and developing documents for information sharing. For both prevention and mitigation, IHs will likely play a larger role in training and analysis of safer alternatives. Of these elements, industrial hygienists are currently least involved with safer alternatives analysis, an area mostly handled by engineers and chemists; however, there is room for increased IH involvement. A significant aspect of the proposed RMP rule is the requirement for third-party auditing following any RMP reportable accident or release from a covered process, or if EPA deems it necessary. The agency’s 1996 RMP final rule defines a covered process as one containing a threshold quantity of a regulated chemical. A reportable accident is any accidental release from a covered process that results in death, injury, or significant property damage on site, or known off-site deaths, injuries, evacuations, sheltering in place, property damage, or environmental damage. To add credibility to third-party auditors, EPA is proposing that professional engineers be required to conduct or participate in audits due to ethical codes associated with the PE license. However, the agency is considering the inclusion of additional certifications such as CIH, CSP, and CHMM as alternatives to the PE requirement. Inclusion of these certifications as approved auditors for RMP would add significant value to the industrial hygiene profession and expand IH involvement in process safety. Even without the certification requirement for RMP auditors, industrial hygienists can still serve as a valuable resource in these audits by evaluating compliance with requirements for incident investigations, training, updating health and safety information, and maintaining proper PSI. EPA is proposing the addition of a requirement to conduct a safer alternatives analysis during the process hazard analysis (PHA). A safer alternatives analysis identifies strategies for making processes, procedures, and equipment safer through minimization, substitution, moderation, and simplification. Industrial hygienists may be particularly qualified to participate in PHAs and safer alternatives analysis. Traditionally, PHAs focus on engineering and design controls of chemical processes, but many industrial hygiene-related concerns are also evaluated. In part, a PHA evaluates engineering and administrative controls, working conditions that may influence employees’ ability to properly complete tasks, and the safety and health of employees. A PHA also involves assessing the potential effects of catastrophic events on emergency responders, the public, and the environment. EPA’s proposed rule will require root-cause analysis following any RMP reportable accident or near miss. Although the agency has not yet defined a specific methodology for a root-cause analysis, industrial hygienists may again be particularly qualified to lead or participate in root-cause analyses depending on the incident. While a certain level of emergency response planning and coordination is required under current regulations, EPA is proposing to improve public awareness; the quality and quantity of training; and coordination and information sharing with local emergency response authorities. This part of the proposal echoes CSB’s report on its investigation into the West Fertilizer fire and explosion, which identified improved emergency response planning, information sharing, and communication as factors that likely would have reduced the numbers of injuries and fatalities. Because proper emergency response during a chemical release requires specific knowledge of chemical and physical hazards, industrial hygienists’ involvement in emergency response planning and coordination can prove essential. Industrial hygienists should help develop publicly shared documents identifying site hazards and participate in emergency planning and training exercises with local responders. Larger and more proactive LEPCs and other government agencies may seek industrial hygienists as consultants for participation, training, emergency planning, and responses. For industrial hygienists who work or consult for regulated companies, sharing information on hazardous regulated substances with local emergency responders will provide useful site-specific details that could be critical in the event of an emergency. Clarification of site hazards and site-specific emergency response exercises will ultimately lead to safer facilities. UPDATING PSM OSHA’s new PSM standard is still relatively early in the regulatory process. The agency’s 2013 request for information asked for data on some of the same PSM additions or modifications that are proposed for RMP, including root-cause analysis, safer technology analysis, third-party audits, and emergency response coordination and planning. OSHA has also requested information for potential inclusion of explosive and reactive chemicals on the list of regulated chemicals, and expansion of scope to the drilling and servicing of oil and gas wells. As this issue went to press, OSHA intended to hold small business advocacy review teleconferences in late June. The teleconferences were scheduled to address a number of topics, including updating the list of highly hazardous chemicals in the PSM standard; requiring additional management-system elements; and expanding PSM coverage and requirements for reactivity hazards. The full list of topics can be found on the OSHA website. Following the small business review, the review panel will compile comments submitted by pre-selected small entity representatives and complete a report providing feedback on the PSM revisions. The report will be placed in the federal docket on Aug. 1. AN ESSENTIAL ROLE If industrial hygienists are being left out of process safety, it is a disservice to the safety of workers and the public and a detriment to the IH profession. As the modernization of process safety progresses, industrial hygienists will play a major role in its support and implementation, and should expect to be deeply entrenched in recognition, evaluation, control, and prevention of catastrophic chemical accidents. Depending on where the final regulations land, industrial hygienists may also be incorporated into supporting roles such as auditing. Initially, IHs may need to proactively insert themselves into the many aspects of process safety management at their workplaces. BRADLEY RODGERS, MS, CIH, CSP, is the industrial hygienist for FutureFuel Chemical Company, and works as a private consultant. He served as a small entity representative to EPA’s small business review panel on RMP and to OSHA’s small business review panel on PSM. He can be reached at or (501) 269-2999.
RESOURCES CSB: “West Fertilizer Company Fire and Explosion” final investigation report (January 2016).
EPA: “Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air Act” (PDF, March 2016).
Executive Order 13650: “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security” (August 2013).
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