Process Safety Management and OSHA’s New Enforcement Directive

Over two years ago, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) quietly announced its plans to resume work on updating and revising the Process  Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (PSM) standard by placing it on the  agency’s fall 2022 unified agenda — and it remained on the agenda in 2023.  

While still in the pre-rule stage of the rulemaking process, the agency’s recent PSM enforcement directive to field staff indicates that OSHA is moving forward with the  PSM standard update, and the publication of a proposed new rule could be coming  sooner than we think.  

Avoiding Explosions 

The original PSM standard was published in 1992 in response to several catastrophic  chemical-release incidents in the United States and elsewhere. The standard covers  employers handling threshold quantities of a listed chemical or flammable material and  those manufacturing explosives or pyrotechnics. Under the standard, OSHA expects  covered employers to have a comprehensive management program — integrating  technologies, procedures, and practices — to ensure employee health and safety. 

The current PSM standard’s shortcomings became apparent in 2013 when an aluminum nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer Company storage facility killed 15  people and injured more than 160. More than 150 buildings were damaged or destroyed.  That catastrophe led to an executive order to update the PSM standard, but work  stalled after the agency completed the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement  Fairness Act (SBREFA) process in August 2016. 

A Reference Tool 

The PSM enforcement directive for field staff hasn’t been updated since 1994. For  employers and safety professionals, the new 103-page directive, which became effective  on January 26, 2024, provides an excellent reference for understanding how an updated  PSM standard is taking shape in the minds of regulators. It also can be used as a  reference for identifying the specific policies and procedures the agency will be  expecting to see in place now, should OSHA come to call.  

Presented in a Q&A format, the document is essentially a comprehensive index of all  the questions raised about the PSM standard over the years, with OSHA’s Letters of  Interpretation (LOI) — or other guidance — as answers. Some questions have a  scenario preceding it to provide context. 

Many of the questions in the PSM enforcement directive are about specific chemicals  and concentrations of chemicals that may or may not fall under the standard. We know  that one of the critical aspects of the PSM standard update will be expanding the list of  highly hazardous chemicals in Appendix A

The PMS standard is considered the most complex of OSHA’s regulations. Because  this new document brings together decades of regulatory thinking on this topic,  employers and safety professionals will find it helpful in their ongoing compliance initiatives.

If you have any questions or concerns about OSHA’s PSM enforcement directive — or if  you have received a citation for any reason — don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for  assistance. 

James F. Laboe 

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