Just five months before Merritt was appointed to lead CSB in August 2002, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report that sharply criticized the agency for management and productivity shortcomings. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill threatened to pull the plug on CSB funding unless it solved its problems and fulfilled its mission.
While CSB was not a "broken agency," Merritt said, it "lacked leadership. I think Charles [Jeffress, CSB's chief operating officer, and former OSHA administrator] and I have been the ones to provide that."
As evidence of improved productivity at the agency, she noted that the agency has finished five investigation reports since she arrived, and is on track to complete six reports for fiscal year 2003. CSB completed one investigation in FY 2001, and four in FY 2002.
"We've always produced extremely high quality investigation reports, and this has been generally recognized," said Merritt. "I think we needed to look at working to make sure our recommendations were implemented. We also needed to look at the broader picture of how do you prevent incidents from happening again.
To promote implementation, Merritt said the agency was focusing more attention on outreach activities. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done with regard to our constituents, to get the message out on what the lessons learned were in these investigations and how do you change behaviors of industry and others in order to prevent this from happening again," she said.
Last year, CSB completed a hazard investigation on reactive chemicals. Among other things, the agency called on EPA to improve data collection on reactive chemical incidents, and on OSHA to include reactive chemicals in its Process Safety Management (PSM) (1910.119) standard. Last month both EPA and OSHA missed the statutory deadline of 120 days they have to respond to CSB's recommendations.
Merritt called the missed deadline an "oversight" and said it was more important "that we actually accomplish what the recommendation has set out to do." She said there is a broad consensus that "reactive chemicals should be included in the PSM rule. I think there's a great deal of momentum to make this happen. The question is how do you do it? The devil is in the details. "
To further that effort, she said, CSB is partnering with OSHA on putting together a roundtable to be held in Washington, D.C. in May or early June. "We are calling in many different people - industry, associations, those who have ideas about how OSHA might actually attack this issue of how they would include reactive chemicals in the process safety rule."