Compliance Magazine Editorial on OSHA directive CPL 2-2.59A
Imagine being in charge of a chemical company. One day a fire breaks out, and an employee, designated as a first responder, is killed fighting the blaze. Then OSHA investigators discover that the man died primarily because both his training and his equipment were inadequate.
This scenario is why CPL 2-2.59A should put anyone who runs a HAZMAT facility into a state of introspection.
These employers need to ask themselves: 'When was the last time that our Emergency Response Plan was brought up to date? Do our emergency responders know how to handle any problem that they might run up against? When were they trained last? What did the training consist of? Do we have the right emergency response equipment? Does the local fire department know what sort of hazardous materials we deal with here? Does the local hospital?'
Behind all of these lies the ultimate question:'What haven't we prepared for?'
In any event, I think that these are subjects that the majority of employers, site safety and health officers, and managers already consider on a regular basis. That's why I don't believe that CPL 2-2.59A will have a significant impact on the industry as a whole. Instead, I think it will reinforce habits that are already widespread.
'Widespread' is not synonymous with 'universal,' however. That's why the directive is necessary. It's for that small group of companies who need the impetus of government regulation in order to do the right thing.
For example, look at the roots of CPL 2-2.59A. It originated from a specific incident, an explosion and fire which occurred at a chemical plant in Lodi, New Jersey, on April, 21 1995. Four emergency responders never made it out of the building, and a fifth died a week later from his injuries.
Later, OSHA and the EPA formed a joint accident investigation team. They found that no employee had ever received formal instruction in how to handle chemical fires or related emergencies. Fire brigade training sessions had been routinely missed by some of the men who later died. Additionally, their firefighting equipment wasn't sufficient to deal with the disaster they faced.
Obviously, the training system was haphazard, with no enforcement of rules against employee truancy. Facilities that take a similiar 'approach' to emergency response will feel this directive's greatest impact.
Some may worry about the powers that CPL 2-2.59A gives to OSHA compliance officers. For instance, it requires investigating officers to contact the local fire department. This is to see if the employer being investigated has notified the firefighters about the company's emergency response plan.
Is this Orwellian? If protecting the safety of employees from gross negligence is a legitimate function of government, the answer must be 'no.' As long as OSHA's inquiries don't exceed the scope of their investigations, no one's rights are being trampled.
One other aspect of CPL 2-2.59A should be noted, and that is the so-called 'buddy system' requirement. This may have an effect on smaller HAZMAT facilities, because it states that no fewer than four people may respond to a hazardous materials emergency. In some cases, this means additional personnel will have to be recruited for first responder brigades.
In closing, CPL 2-2.59A contains a fair amount that could be controversial. That aside, it will provoke some companies to re-evaluate their procedures, which isn't a bad thing.
I have to admit that when I first read an abstract of CPL 2-2.59A, my reaction was incredulity. What amazed me was the idea that somewhere out there was a hazardous materials facility that hadn't informed local emergency responders about the chemicals that it processed or stored. It is also astounding that a company wouldn't train its internal emergency responders how to handle the situations that they might face.
Of course, if these things weren't the case, there wouldn't be a need for HAZWOPER.