“What’s the use you learning to do right when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?”  — Mark Twain, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

We love to hate regulations.

The harder it is to comply with them, the more we hate them. One of the OSHA regulations that is the hardest to comply with is the Process Safety Management standard – 29 CFR 1910.119.

What would it be like if the PSM standard was just tossed out or never enacted in the first place?

OSHA Would Still Care

OSHA’s mission, bitter complaints notwithstanding, is not to generate revenue by issuing citations and collecting fines. So, it is really not the role of safety professionals to be on the lookout for OSHA inspectors. In their own words, OSHA’s mission is that of all safety professionals: “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.

OSHA hasn’t been able to set and enforce standards for everything it cares about. There is a lot that affects working conditions for which there is no specific regulation. When a specific workplace hazard becomes obvious, OSHA reacts. Initially, the reaction is with the general duty clause, but given some time, OSHA will pull together a formal program of training, outreach, education, and with bits and pieces of other regulations, develop an enforcement strategy.

Consider ergonomics. OSHA went so far as to publish 29 CFR 1910.900 in November 2000. It was on the books for three months until the U.S. Congress rejected it using the Congressional Review Act. Senate Joint Resolution 6 was signed into law on March 20, 2001, rescinding the original ergonomics rule and prohibiting OSHA from issuing another rule that is substantially the same. Yet OSHA remained concerned and so took a “four-pronged approach” consisting of guidelines, outreach and assistance, a national advisory committee, and enforcement. With no regulations to enforce, OSHA relies on the general duty clause, not on an ad hoc basis, but with a formal program that makes clear what it expects those general duties to be. And yes, employers are being cited for ergonomic hazards to this day.

As with ergonomics, the concerns that prompted the development of the PSM standard have not gone away. Even in the absence of a PSM standard, OSHA would still care.

Combustible Dust Hazards

In 2006, the Chemical Safety Board compiled a list of hundreds of combustible dust incidents over the previous 25 years, then requested that OSHA set and enforce a combustible dust standard. While this suggestion was being discussed, there was an explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, Georgia that killed 14. Yet there is still not an OSHA combustible dust standard.

Instead, OSHA cobbled together excerpts from various other standards and the general duty clause. The foundation for enforcement of combustible dust safety is the housekeeping standard, which is captured in a single requirement:

1910.22(a)(1) All places of employment, passageways, storerooms, service rooms, and walking-working surfaces are kept in a clean, orderly, and sanitary condition.

From that simple requirement, a requirement that sounds a lot like a mom telling her middle-school aged children to clean up their bedrooms, and the general duty clause, OSHA has crafted an enforcement program for addressing combustible dust hazards. Although not perfect, it has teeth. Ask the employers who have recently been cited.

Likewise, if the PSM standard did not exist, OSHA would still be able to cobble together excerpts from various other standards and the general duty clause to create a process safety management enforcement program. No chemical processing facility should ever believe that just because they are not covered by the PSM standard that they do not have responsibilities to manage process safety.

Some Existing Regulations

What follows are a few examples of existing regulations that OSHA could use to implement a PSM enforcement program in lieu of a PSM standard:

1910.119(d)(1) Information pertaining to the hazards of highly hazardous chemicals.
The requirements of this paragraph of the PSM standard are largely duplicated in 1900.1200, the Hazard Communication standard.

1910.119(d)(3)(i)(C) Electrical classification
This item in the PSM standard simply reimposes requirements that are already spelled out in 1910.106, Flammable Liquids, and 1910.307, Hazardous (classified) locations. It is especially important to note that the need for classifying hazardous locations and then assuring that electrical equipment and fork trucks comply with those classifications are not dependent on threshold quantities.

1910.119(d)(3)(i)(D) Relief system design and design basis
The Flammable Liquids standard, 1910.106, requires that relief systems be designed and installed for any vessel containing flammable liquids. Moreover, OSHA could use the general duty clause to demonstrate that both the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code and several API standards make pressure relief a recognized hazard requiring attention.

1910.119(d)(3)(i)(E) Ventilation system design
The Flammable Liquids standard, 1910.106, also spells out requirements for ventilation in facilities that store or use flammable liquids.

1910.119(e) Process Hazard Analysis
While the PHA requirements of the PSM Standard are very detailed, other regulations also require that employers evaluate hazards. One that has been used aggressively is 1910.132, Personal Protective Equipment-General Requirements.

The PPE standard says in 1910.132(d),

“The employer shall assess the workplace to determine if hazards are present, or are likely to be present, which necessitate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). If such hazards are present, or likely to be present, the employer shall:  Select, and have each affected employee use, the types of PPE that will protect the affected employee from the hazards identified in the hazard assessment; Communicate selection decisions to each affected employee; and, Select PPE that properly fits each affected employee.”

This hazard assessment can be simple in uncomplicated workplaces, but OSHA has shown a willingness to push pretty hard against employers whose assessments they deem insufficient. If the housekeeping standard can be the foundation of a combustible dust enforcement program, this standard easily could be used to compel PHAs.

1910.119(f)(4) Safe work practices
This paragraph of the PSM standard lists four examples of safe work practices that OSHA expects for PSM-covered processes to have. In two cases, the PSM standard simply reimposes requirements already established in other regulations:  1910.146, Permit-required confined spaces, and 1910.147, Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout).

1910.119(k)(2) Hot work permit
In this paragraph of the PSM standard, OSHA comes right out and says that it is simply restating the requirements that are spelled out in 1910.252(a), Welding, Cutting, and Brazing-General requirements.

1910.119(m) Incident investigation
Although the requirements in the PSM standard for incident investigations are more rigorous and apply to near misses as well actual incidents, OSHA already has incident investigation requirements spelled out in 1904.29, Recordkeeping Forms and Recording Criteria, where Form 301, Injuries and Illnesses Incident Report, is defined.

1910.119(n) Emergency planning and response
The only new thing in this paragraph of the PSM standard is a requirement for a written procedure about how to handle small chemical spills. Otherwise, it simply invokes 1910.38, Emergency Action Plans, and 1910.120(a), (p), and (q), Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response.

In a Nutshell

Process safety management requires

  • that there be accurate procedures and information for everything in the process,
  • that everything in the covered process be suitable for its intended use and maintained in good order,
  • that all personnel exposed to the hazards of the process—operations, maintenance, and contractors—know what they are doing and understand the hazards to which they are exposed, and
  • that when something goes wrong, everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to do and how to respond, and then figures out how to keep it from happening again.

Whether or not the PSM standard existed as a regulation, managing process safety is the right thing to do. Because it is the right thing to do, OSHA expects employers to manage process safety to keep their employees safe. The nice thing about the PSM standard is that it lays out the framework for how to do this.

So, do the right thing. As Mark Twain also famously said, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”