September 21, 2009 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Members of Congress George Miller (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Corrine Brown (D-FL)  sent a letter to acting OSHA chief Jordan Barab urging the agency to expand its process safety management standard (PSM) to address reactive chemicals.  Reactives are highly unstable that can violently generate heat, energy and/or toxic gases when they come into contact with air, water or other substances.   The letter reminds Mr. Barab that members of Congress wrote to his predecessor, Asst. Secretary Foulke, in January 2008 asking him to begin the rulemaking process to address the hazards related to reactive chemicals.  They note:

“the previous administration failed to take action.”

In 2002, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) issued a report on reactive chemicals and made, among others, two specific recommendations to OSHA.  These two currently have the label:  “Open, Unacceptable Response,” according to the CSB’s systems for tracking recommendations. 

One recommendation (2001-01-H-1) calls on OSHA to amend its PSM stanard (29 CFR 1910.119) to

  • achieve more comprehensive control of reactive hazards that could have catastrophic consequences, including self-reactive chemicals
  • broaden the application to cover reactive hazards resulting from process-specific conditions and combinations of chemicals
  • augment the process hazard analysis element in the PSM standard to explicitly require an evaluation of reactive hazards

The other recommendation (2001-01-H-2) calls on OSHA to:

  • implement a program to define and record information on reactive incidents that OSHA investigates or requires to be investigated under OSHA regulations
  • structure the collected information so that it can be used to measure progress in the prevention of reactive incidents that give rise to catastrophic releases

I wonder if this recommendation stems from CSB staff trying to use OSHA data to inform its report, such as its on-line “accident investigation search” page.   When I’ve used this tool I have little certainty that the results received were accurate or complete.  Of course, OSHA offers a HUGE disclaimer about the search tool itself, but that just further reduces any confidence I have in the data. 

In the letter sent to acting Asst. Secretary Barab, Congressman Miller and the other congressional authors note that staff of the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) advised the Education and Labor Committee that the December 2007 explosion at T2 Laboratories, Inc.

“would have been prevented if OSHA had a process safety regulation that covered reactive hazards (and which specifically included sodium)” and the employer had complied with it.

If that’s not a compelling call to action for OSHA, I don’t know what more the CSB staff could say.

Some time next month, we will be reading the second version of Secretary Solis’ regulatory plan for OSHA.  (Her first regulatory agenda was issued in May 2009 and did not mention PSM.)  We’ll see if the new OSHA team concurs with Congressman Miller and his colleagues that regulatory improvements to PSM are needed.  Ten labor organizations think these sorts of changes are long overdue, they petitioned OSHA asking for amendments to the PSM rule more than six years ago (see petition)

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