OSHA Revives Process Safety Management Update

Despite safety improvements, continued toxic chemical releases drive new process safety management rulemaking activity.

It should be no surprise that OSHA is stepping up its plans to revise the Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (PSM) standard. At the pre-rule stage of the rulemaking process, PSM appeared on the agency’s Unified Agenda last spring after several years of rulemaking dormancy.

The modernization of the PSM standard has been in the works since December 2013, when OSHA issued a Request for Information (RFI). The RFI phase of rulemaking was completed in March 2014. After that, the agency initiated the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) process — where the impacts of regulations on smaller businesses are considered —which was completed in August 2016.

OSHA’s PSM rulemaking plans align with the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to revise its Risk Management Program (RMP) rule. The EPA held a series of public hearings about their proposal in September 2022. OSHA hosted a stakeholder meeting in October 2022, where the agency shared more details about its plans, and participants responded.

What’s PSM all about?

The original Process Safety Management standard (29 CFR § 1910.119) was published in 1992 in response to several catastrophic chemical-release incidents in the United States and elsewhere. Both OSHA’s PSM standard and the EPA’s RMP rule come from amendments to the 1990 Clean Air Act and the PSM standard is considered to be the most complex of OSHA’s regulations.

The PMS standard requires businesses engaged in a process that involves a threshold quantity of highly hazardous chemicals to implement a comprehensive process management program and satisfy a range of other performance-based requirements. The standard describes a 14-point management process that integrates “technologies, procedures, and management practices” to help ensure employee safety.

OSHA believes the PSM standard has improved process safety in the United States. The agency also recognizes that significant incidents — the uncontrolled release of highly hazardous chemicals — continue to occur. That’s why President Obama signed Executive Order 13650 in August 2013, requiring OSHA to “identify issues related to modernizing the PSM standard.”

What’s being considered in a PMS update?

As outlined by OSHA in the October 2022 stakeholders meeting, a few of the major issues being considered in a PMS update include:

  • Clarifying the exemption for atmospheric storage tanks
  • Resuming enforcement for oil and gas production facilities
  • Expanding the scope of the standard to include oil and gas well-drilling and servicing
  • Updating and expanding the list of highly hazardous chemicals in Appendix A
  • Adding coverage for the dismantling of explosives and pyrotechnics
  • Defining the limits of a PSM-covered process
  • Clarifying the scope of the retail facilities exemption
  • Strengthening employee participation to include stop work authority
  • Adding a requirement to conduct a formal root cause analysis as part of any incident investigation
  • Requiring coordination of emergency planning with local public emergency-response authorities

What’s next?

Affected employers are encouraged to review the process management changes underway at both OSHA and the EPA and proactively plan for meeting these new regulations at some point down the road. As OSHA develops a new proposed rule over the next year (or two), we’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns about how the PSM update will impact your business — or if you’ve received a citation for any reason — don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for assistance.

About the Author: James Laboe

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