Washington Watch -- The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board: Thinking Strategically in Investigating (and Preventing) Chemical Accidents

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Courtesy of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

(From the Winter 2006 issue of Environmental Quality Management)

Chemical accidents are always unwanted, and almost always the subject of considerable media attention and public scrutiny. Investigating the causes of chemical accidents is not an easy task, nor is the job of communicating the results of such investigations.

Given the significant importance of the mission and day-to-day work of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (the 'CSB' or 'Board'), whose job is to investigate and prevent accidents, the release in August of its draft strategic plan for fiscal years 2007-2012 (1) received remarkably little fanfare. This 'Washington Watch' column provides some background on the CSB, and outlines key elements of its draft strategic plan.

Background: Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

In 1990, Congress significantly expanded the Clean Air Act (CAA) through a wideranging set of amendments. Among them was CAA Section 112(r)(6), which authorized the creation of the CSB.

The Board was intended to be 'an independent, non-regulatory, federal agency with a mission to investigate chemical accidents and to recommend actions to prevent future accidents.'(2) CSB members are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Congress modeled the CSB after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB is the well-respected federal agency tasked with investigating transportation-related disasters.

In creating the CSB, Congress noted that although many agencies shared 'an interest in chemical safety, 'no agency of the United States Government was actively engaged in efforts to prevent chemical accidents. . . .' (3) The Board was intended in large part to fill that gap.

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