Chemical Safety Alert On Implementation of “Inherently Safer Technology” Issued by OSHA and EPA

On June 9, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an alert containing agency guidance for voluntary measures that can be taken to reduce risks and improve safety at chemical plants.  The alert is the first step in a three-step process outlined to implement Executive Order (EO)13650, issued by President Obama on August 1, 2013, in response to the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas that killed 14 people and injured about 200 others.  The next two steps will be formal agency guidance and then, after consideration of feedback from the alert and the guidance, potentially a rule, jointly issued by the two agencies.

The alert, entitled “Safer Technology and Alternatives”, outlines principles of “Inherently Safer Technologies” (IST), such as switching from more dangerous chemicals to less dangerous chemicals, or reducing the quantities of dangerous chemicals handled, for companies to consider to reduce risks to worker and community health and the environment.  It encourages companies to consider and utilize IST and “inherently safer design” (ISD) as the first choice for managing chemical hazards and risks.

The alert can be found HERE.

EPA’s participation in the alert is part of its overhaul of the Risk Management Plan program under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act.

The agencies urge chemical companies to consider using the following process to identify IST and ISD measures that can reduce risks to workers, communities and the environment:

1. Systematic hazard identification utilizing “process hazard analysis” (PHA) tools.

2. Utilization of a hierarchy of controls:

a. Inherent controls—“the first preference is to avoid hazards by using non- or less-hazardous substances or materials …, minimizing the number of hazardous substances, or simplifying or moderating process conditions to eliminate or reduce the likelihood or severity of incidents.”

b. Passive controls—“protective hardware or structures added on to a process that provides a risk reduction benefit with no action required by personnel and no motive power or energy source required;” such as secondary containment.

c. Active controls—“safety features or engineering controls added on to a process that requires active operation of equipment to prevent or mitigate safety hazards;” such as flow control valves or pressure sensors.

d.  Procedural controls—“administrative systems that mandate maintaining safe process conditions, operating procedures defining safe operating modes and the steps to be followed to maintain those modes, training, emergency response procedures, emergency warning, and evacuation procedures.”

The alert provides flow charts to help explain the process of identifying and implementing IST and ISD.

The agencies explicitly stated that the alert contains no binding requirements, but is guidance only.  However, employers should remember that OSHA has power under the General Duty clause to cite companies for failure to provide a place of employment that is “free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” OSHA, therefore, has the authority to use its publication of the alert to establish that chemical hazards that could be avoided through IST or ISD are “recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees” in support of a citation for violation of the General Duty Clause.

For more information on the alert, EPA’s Risk Management Plan program, or OSHA’s chemical hazard program, contact Steve O’Day.


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