“RMP Changes Are Almost Here, Stay A Step Ahead”

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By Timothy P Fagan, Senior Legal Editor

It has been 3 years since the ammonium nitrate explosion in West, Texas, killed 15 people, injured hundreds, and caused widespread damage.  Just a few months after that event, President Obama’s Executive Order (EO) 13650 set into motion actions by numerous government agencies designed to enhance the safety and security of chemical facilities and reduce the risks that hazardous chemicals pose to owners and operators, workers, and communities.

In addition to enhancing cooperation and information sharing among federal agencies and state and local authorities, the activities stemming from EO 13650 included modernizing key regulations, such as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Program (RMP) and OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) Program.  To that end, the EPA recently proposed amendments to RMP regulations under 40 CFR 68, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made policy changes with respect to PSM that will impact how facilities comply with the RMP.

What changes are coming?

The changes to RMP regulations being proposed by the EPA impact the implementation of release prevention programs, the development of emergency response plans, and the sharing of information.

Release prevention programs.  The proposed changes to the accidental release prevention programs include:

  • Requiring all facilities with Program Level 2 or 3 processes to conduct root cause analyses as part of any incident investigation of a catastrophic release or a “near miss.” Identifying the root cause rather than the immediate cause will be more beneficial in preventing similar accidents in the future.
  • Requiring all facilities with Program Level 2 or 3 processes to hire an independent third party to perform a compliance audit after the facility has a reportable release.  Currently, such audits are self-audits, so requiring a third party increases the objectivity of the audit.
  • Requiring facilities in the paper manufacturing, petroleum and coal products manufacturing, and chemical manufacturing sectors with Program 3 processes to conduct a safer technology and alternatives analysis (STAA) as part of the process hazard analysis that must be updated every 5 years.  The facilities must then evaluate the feasibility of any inherently safer technology (IST) identified in the STAA.   The implementation of IST potentially reduces the risk of accidental releases within these industries, which the EPA has identified as having a disproportionate share of reportable releases.

Emergency response plans.  The proposed changes to emergency response plans include:

  • Requiring all facilities with Program Level 2 or 3 processes to coordinate with the local emergency response agencies at least once a year to ensure that resources and capabilities are in place to respond to an accidental release and to ensure that emergency contact information is up to date.  Effective coordination and communication between facilities and emergency responders can reduce the severity of accidental chemical releases.
  • Requiring all facilities with Program Level 2 or 3 processes that have developed their own emergency response plan to conduct a full field exercise at least once every 5 years and one tabletop exercise annually in the other years.   In addition, such facilities that have a reportable accident would be required to conduct a full field exercise within 1 year of the accident.  Such exercises will help ensure that all emergency response personnel understand their roles and responsibilities and be better prepared in the event of a real accident.

Access to information.  The proposed changes to accessing RMP information include:

  • Requiring RMP facilities to provide certain basic information to the public through easily accessible means such as a facility website.  If no website exists, the owner or operator may provide the information at public libraries or government offices or use other means appropriate for particular locations and facilities.
  • Requiring RMP facilities to hold a public meeting after an RMP reportable accident.
  • Requiring certain facilities to provide, on request, local emergency response agencies with summaries of audits, emergency response exercises, investigation reports, and implemented ISTs.
The surprising omission

After the issuance of EO 13650, there was significant speculation that the modernization of RMP regulations would involve additions to the listed chemicals regulated under 40 CFR 68 and a reevaluation of the thresholds at which chemicals became subject to the RMP.  However, the EPA opted not to regulate any additional chemicals under the RMP, nor did the agency change any of the thresholds as part of the recently released proposed regulations.

OSHA’s impact on RMP

Any RMP process that is subject to OSHA’s PSM must comply with Program Level 3 requirements, the most stringent requirements.  Last year OSHA revised its interpretation of the PSM standard’s retail facility exemption, which will result in thousands of facilities no longer being exempt from PSM.  Most of these facilities are already subject to the RMP under Program Level 2, but the change in the exemption interpretation will result in these facilities becoming Program Level 3 facilities.  OSHA will begin enforcing the new exemption interpretation on September 30, 2016, and the EPA will require risk management plan updates within the following 6 months.

What happens next?

For several years there has been speculation about what changes would be made to RMP regulations and how facilities would be impacted.  Now the proposed regulations are here, and facilities must begin the evaluation process.  Facilities must evaluate the proposed regulations and provide comments to the EPA, if necessary, and facilities must evaluate their own programs, procedures, and plans to determine what changes must be implemented to ensure continued compliance with a changing RMP.

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