Emergency Planning: The Key Regulations

This article looks at the government regulations (OSHA and EPA) associated with developing emergency response plans.

There is a maze of government regulations requiring the development of emergency response plans. The most important and widely applicable regulations are those promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Other regulations may apply to any given work site, but federal EPA and OSHA regulations are an important starting point for understanding a facility's requirements.

Presented below is an overview of those key regulations, including their scope and application. First, determine which regulations apply to your facility. Then, consideration should be given to developing an integrated emergency response plan. Finally, don't forget that other agencies, such as the federal departments of Transportation and Interior and various state agencies, may have requirements that impact your facility planning.

EPA's Requirements

These five federal EPA regulations require emergency response plans:

Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) (40 CFR 112): A "carefully thought-out" Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) plan must be developed by facilities that store significant quantities of oils of any kind. Authorized under FWPCA, there are detailed planning requirements outlined in EPA regulations. Facilities must develop SPCC plans if their underground storage capacity for oil exceeds 42,000 gallons, if above-ground storage capacity exceeds 1,320 gallons or if the capacity of any single above-ground container exceeds 660 gallons.

The SPCC plan must address engineering controls to prevent spills of oil, describe facility emergency response and countermeasure procedures for spills that threaten "navigable waters" or natural resources. It should include site descriptions, designation of responsible personnel, lists of spill prevention equipment, emergency response protocols, training guidelines and an incident response plan.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (40 CFR 265): RCRA regulates the "cradle-to-grave" management and disposal of hazardous wastes. Whether a waste is "hazardous" depends on its "characteristics" of ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity and toxicity. Facilities that generate no more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of hazardous waste monthly are classified as "conditionally exempt generators" and are generally exempt from most RCRA requirements. Those generating 100 to 1,000 kilograms (220 to 2,200 pounds) of hazardous wastes monthly are classified as "small quantity generators," while those generating more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) are classified as "large-quantity generators."

Emergency planning requirements are imposed on small- and large-quantity generators. Small-quantity generators must develop emergency response procedures, designate command personnel and provide emergency response training to employees. Large-quantity generators are obliged to prepare an extensive, written contingency plan, including site descriptions, designation of responsible personnel, detailed and annotated lists of emergency equipment, evacuation plans, emergency response protocols and procedures, training guidelines, letters of agreement with community response organizations and an incident response plan. Facility workers must be trained to implement emergency procedures for hazardous wastes spills.

Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know (EPCRA): Also known as SARA Title III, this law requires compliance by facilities that store "extremely hazardous substances" (EHS) or "hazardous substances" in quantities greater than listed threshold planning quantities.

Regulated facilities must inform community agencies about the types and quantities of EHS chemicals stored at their sites. They must also share technical information such as the names of responsible personnel, lists of available response equipment, emergency response procedures and evacuation routes. In the event of a release of an EHS chemical at levels greater than regulated reporting quantities, facilities must also provide detailed emergency response and health care information.

Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA): Under Section 112(r) of the CAAA, EPA"s Risk Management Program (RMP) includes emergency response plans for facilities storing "regulated substances" in quantities greater than listed threshold quantities. Regulated substances are toxic gases and flammable materials that pose risks of catastrophic releases. The proposed response plan must anticipate worst-case scenarios defined as "instantaneous loss of all of the regulated substance ... with failure of all mitigation systems." Plan components would include lists of responsible personnel, lists of emergency equipment, evacuation and protective actions for workers, notification procedures and protective actions for the public, emergency response protocols, employee training guidelines, and information on first-aid and emergency medical care for victims.

OSHA's Emergency Planning Requirements

OSHA regulations protect the health and safety of nearly all employees in the private sector. The emergency planning requirements in OSHA's rules define a common-sense approach to workplace safety. For that reason, they serve as useful models for all facilities.

Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (29 CFR 1910.120): Known by its acronym HAZWOPER, this OSHA regulation pertains to employees who are expected to respond to emergency spills of hazardous chemicals. Employers must develop written emergency response plans, including personnel roles, command structure, evacuation plans, sites of refuge, decontamination procedures, use of personal protective equipment, emergency equipment lists, emergency medical treatment and first aid, response training and medical surveillance. There are also explicit employee training requirements.

Process Safety Standard (29 CFR 1910.119): Authorized by CAAA, this regulation reflects OSHA's concerns about toxic gases and flammable materials that pose risks of catastrophic releases. Facilities that store "highly hazardous substances" (HHS) in quantities greater than listed threshold quantities are obliged to comply with the requirements of HAZWOPER (described above) and employee emergency and fire prevention plans (described below). In addition, this standard requires process safety training, formal incident investigations and post-incident debriefings.

OSHA's list of HHS chemicals under the Process Safety Standard is nearly identical to EPA's list of regulated substances under CAAA, but respective threshold quantities differ.

Employee Emergency and Fire Prevention Plans (29 CFR 1910.38): This OSHA regulation applies to "all emergency action plans required by a particular OSHA standard." That is, if a facility must develop emergency action plans under any other OSHA regulation, then it must also have these plans. Facilities are required to maintain evacuation plans and fire prevention plans for all workers and to provide annual evacuation training and fire prevention training for all employees.

Miscellaneous OSHA Regulations and Requirements: Emergency response planning considerations are also found in the following OSHA standards: Bloodborne Pathogens (29 CFR 1910.1030), Confined Spaces Entry Permit (29 CFR 1910.146), Medical Services and First Aid (29 CFR 1910.151), Fire Protection (29 CFR 1910.155 et. seq.) and Lab Safety (29 CFR 1910.1450). Plans required under these various standards tend to overlap with those described above.

Jonathan Borak, M.D., and Bernard D. Silverstein, CIH

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