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Extremely Hazardous Substances and 112(r) Plans

Even with the best standard operating procedures, spills can still happen--often when they are least expected.

As part of the Clean Air Act's chemical accident prevention provisions, the Environmental Protection Agency established a list of 140 toxic and flammable substances. Facilities with threshold quantities of any of the substances on these lists are required to create Risk Management Plans (RMPs). These plans document standard operating procedures, training requirements, and spill response protocols that work together to help prevent and quickly mitigate the effects of an accidental release of any of these materials.

A lesser-known part of these provisions is the 112(r) General Duty Clause (GDC), which requires facilities with stationary sources of extremely hazardous substances to identify spill hazards associated with those substances, maintain a safe facility, and mitigate the effects of spills. Unlike the RMP requirements in 40 CFR 68, the GDC provisions do not contain a list of chemicals, nor do they specify threshold quantities that trigger compliance. The intention of the GDC provision is for facilities to identify and address all chemical hazards in a manner similar to OSHA's General Duty Clause.

Extremely hazardous substances are not limited solely to the chemicals found on any of EPA's lists. A Senate report explained that in addition to any listed chemicals, an extremely hazardous substance is any chemical "which may or may not be listed or otherwise identified by any government agency which may … cause death, injury or property damage due to its toxicity, reactivity, flammability, volatility, or corrosivity." The Senate report lists OSHA, NIOSH, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), and others as resources for information on hazardous substances.

Facilities with extremely hazardous substances that are subject to GDC have three main obligations. First, they need to know and understand the hazards posed by the chemicals stored on site and be able to determine the impacts that a release of these chemicals could have on people and the environment. Second, GDC plans must document the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and employee training requirements that help to keep the facility safe and prevent spills. Third, plans need to include mitigation strategies that will be used in the event of a release.

Identifying Hazards
Chemical inventories are a good starting point for determining what hazardous substances are present at the facility. These lists, coupled with safety data sheets and information from suppliers, can help determine the particular hazards of chemicals stored and used at the facility.

Processes that involve hazardous chemicals also should be evaluated. Often, this step has already been performed as part of a Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) for various OSHA safety plans.

Knowing which chemical hazards are present at the facility provides a basis for evaluating the various impacts that spills may have on people and the environment. It also helps to focus internal training efforts and shape emergency response planning. Local emergency management agencies often can assist facilities in determining evacuation radiuses and potential populations that may be impacted by chemical releases.

Maintaining a Safe Facility
Facility processes that are operated safely have lower occurrences of worker injuries and accidental chemical releases. Complying with the GDC requirements for maintaining a safe facility encompasses many of the safety practices that are already in place throughout the facility by requiring full compliance with established federal, state, and local regulations, as well as any applicable consensus standards and codes.

Documenting standard operating procedures for each process involving a hazardous substance establishes safe, routine work practices; sets parameters for safe operating limits; and is also a requirement for GDC plans. Good SOPs are clearly written, concise, and easily understandable by the person who will be operating the equipment or using the process. They should include instruction for start-up, normal operation, normal shutdown, emergencies, and any other situations that are likely to occur.

Well-designed SOPs also can provide a basis for training programs. Employees who are taught to follow SOPs and who understand the hazards of the chemicals and processes they will work with each day are better able to perform tasks more safely. Procedures that outline correct process operations and parameters will help employees identify things that are out of the norm faster so that they can be properly shut down or adjusted to prevent failure.

Mitigating Spill Hazards
Even with the best SOPs, spills can still happen--often when they are least expected. Being prepared to respond to spills quickly and effectively is an important part of GDC planning. Understanding the volume and properties of chemicals on site, as well as the processes that are in use, allows coordinators to determine the type, rate, and possible duration of a chemical release.

Good response plans include potential spill release scenarios and document the effects that those scenarios may have on people and the environment. Knowing the effects that a spill could have on the local community also allows the facility to take steps to mitigate certain hazards before a spill scenario occurs and to have the proper tools and supplies on hand to respond quickly.

Mitigating hazards can take many forms. It always should include training employees to recognize circumstances that are not normal and teaching them what to do when there is a release, even if their only action is to evacuate the building. Mitigation also may include installing secondary containment devices and working with local response teams to ensure that specialty response equipment will be available if there is an emergency.

For many facilities, mitigation involves responding with absorbents, vacuums, and other equipment. No matter what methods are used, training employees to understand their roles when there is a release and hosting regular drills that allow employees to use their response skills will help to ensure safety and minimize the effects of a spill.

Facility response plans should be coordinated with local response agencies, such as firefighters, emergency medical services, hospitals and the local emergency management agency. The members of these agencies are very skilled and provide valuable resources, but they may have limitations that are best understood prior to an emergency. For example, a single hospital's emergency room probably cannot treat 200 victims simultaneously, and the county hazmat team likely will take some time to arrive on scene. Coordinating plans with local response agencies allows everyone to interact and develop a plan that will ensure the greatest safety with realistic expectations from all parties.

The idea behind GDC planning is not just for facilities to add one more response plan to their shelves. Unlike other general plans that focus solely on the facility's emergency response efforts, GDC plans focus on stepping back and looking at the proactive guidelines and procedures that can be put in place to reduce the likelihood of a spill. Documenting these practices helps ensure safety every day and minimizes the potential for accidental releases.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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