OSHA Puts Off Regulation of Reactive Chemical Hazards

OSHA Administrator John Henshaw has rejected, at least for now, the Chemical Safety Board's (CSB) recommendation that OSHA amend its process safety management (PSM) standard to cover more reactive chemical hazards.

In an address at the annual conference of the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS), Henshaw said his agency will instead focus on providing guidance to industry, while relying on general duty clause (GDC) enforcement to deal with reactive hazards not covered by the PSM regulation.

Henshaw explained his approach by noting that while there was no consensus at a June roundtable of stakeholders held to discuss the CSB's recommendations, the agency needs to move forward.

"We believe the current [PSM] standard provides a basis for addressing most problems that occur as part of chemical processes," Henshaw asserted. "Changing the PSM standard is not on OSHA's regulatory agenda at this time." OSHA is, however, "still considering" proposals to modify the standard.

Henshaw briefly mentioned GDC enforcement, but devoted most of his speech to OSHA's focus on providing more information and guidance to employers. He said the agency is completing final arrangements to make available on the OSHA Web site a new CCPS book, "Essential Practices for Managing Chemical Reactivity Hazards." The book is a compendium of best practices compiled and reviewed by experts in the field, including:

  • A preliminary screening tool to help employers identify if they have reactive hazards in their workplace;
  • Sample reactive management programs;
  • Information on real reactive incidents.

Henshaw said the book should be available "within the next several weeks."

In addition, OSHA is working to complete by next spring a guidance document that will emphasize the importance of screening for reactive hazards.

Henshaw said the agency would revise its compliance directive for the PSM standard to clarify a number of issues, including the difference between storage tanks and process tanks.

"We want to make sure employers understand that any tank used for something other than storage only is considered a process tank… and is clearly covered under the PSM standard," said Henshaw.

While backing off from new regulations, OSHA is heeding two CSB recommendations concerning the PSM rule. Henshaw said his agency would clarify process safety information and process hazard analysis elements of PSM. The changes to the compliance directive are to be completed by next year.

"We support Mr. Henshaw's decision on reactive chemicals and are focused on helping OSHA achieve the objectives he outlined," commented Chris VandenHeuvel, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

ACC is working with OSHA, EPA, CCPS and other industry groups to disseminate and train its members and customers on the reactives identification methodology developed by CCPS.

"I'm pleased awareness of reactive chemical hazards has reached the highest level of OSHA," commented Michael Sprinker, director of health and safety at the International Chemical Workers Union. "We think there is enough information to push forward with a regulation, and we aren't giving up on this."

With respect to OSHA's guidance effort, Sprinker said he had a "wait and see" attitude. "There's a fair amount of disappointment over ergonomic guidance documents. They are slow to come out and in almost every case labor representatives weren't invited to participate."

Numerous attempts to obtain a comment from CSB about OSHA's new reactive chemical initiative were unsuccessful.

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