OSHA kicks off the “chemical nEP” - new pilot program will focus on facilities’ compliance with the PSM standard

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Courtesy of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

With little fanfare, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has rolled out its much anticipated “PSM Covered Chemical Facilities National Emphasis Program.” This one-year pilot program, launched in July 2009, focuses on facilities’ compliance with the OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) standard,1 which aims to blunt the hazard of fires or explosions resulting from releases of “highly hazardous chemicals.”<sup>2</sup>

This “Washington Watch” column reviews the new pilot program and assesses the implications of the program for regulated facilities.

A New Approach to PSM Compliance Inspections

At the core of the new national emphasis program (NEP) is enforcement of OSHA’s PSM standard. The Chemical NEP (as OSHA calls the new program) “establishes policies and procedures for inspecting workplaces that are covered by” the standard.<sup>3</sup>

The Chemical NEP represents a new approach to PSM compliance inspections. OSHA states:

The program's inspection process includes asking detailed questions designed to gather facts related to PSM requirements and verifying that employers' written and implemented PSM programs are consistent. The intent of the NEP is to conduct quick inspections at a large number of facilities that will be randomly selected from a list of worksites likely to have highly hazardous chemicals in quantities covered by the [PSM] standard.<sup>4</sup>

Background: The PSM Standard and National Emphasis Programs

Originally issued in 1992, the PSM standard represented OSHA’s response to a number of catastrophic incidents that had occurred worldwide at industrial facilities using “highly hazardous chemicals” (HHCs). Such incidents, though generally infrequent, can be catastrophic when they occur, often resulting in deaths and serious injuries.

The “Enforcement Deficit” and NEPs

In connection with the PSM standard, OSHA issued directive CPL 02-02-045 (formerly CPL 2-2.45A), entitled the “Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals -- Compliance Guidelines and Enforcement Procedures.”5 This document sets forth policies, procedures, standard clarifications, and compliance guidance applicable to enforcement of the PSM standard.

The directive notes that inspections carried out under the PSM standard, called Program Quality Verifications (PQVs), are resource-intensive. Accordingly, OSHA stated that it would perform only a “limited number” of facility inspections each year.

This is a reprint of an article published in Environmental Quality Management, Winter 2009. Copyright 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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