CSB Urges EPA to Require Inherently Safer Technologies

Commenting on a proposed rule on accidental release prevention requirements, the board has asked EPA to adopt more robust requirements regarding the use of inherently safer systems analysis and the hierarchy of controls.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has submitted comments in response to an EPA proposed rule on accidental release prevention requirements, part of the risk management programs specified by the Clean Air Act. CSB is charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents, and the act directs the CSB to make recommendations on EPA risk management rulemaking; modernizing process safety regulations is on CSB's "Most Wanted Safety Improvements" list, and CSB's comments say the agency is encouraged that EPA "is making progress towards much needed change to better prevent chemical incidents." But CSB parts ways with EPA when it comes to mandating inherently safer technologies.

CSB stated that it agrees investigating the root causes of incidents is an important tool for using lessons learned to prevent future incidents and agrees with the information EPA outlined for inclusion in an incident investigation report. CSB also said it strongly agrees with the proposed requirement to include at least one person with appropriate knowledge of the facility process and experience in incident investigation techniques to be on the incident investigation team.

CSB asked that EPA to include a requirement to investigate near-misses for Program 2 and 3 facilities and that EPA not defer to owners/operators in relying on their own definitions of a near-miss. "The incident investigation section of the Proposed Rule is strengthened by defining 'root cause' and 'catastrophic release,' and 'near-miss' should also be defined," the board said in the comments, adding that it believes, as EPA has pointed out, that the Center for Chemical Process Safety has a robust definition that could be proposed for adoption.

The board has repeatedly stated in its investigation reports that effectively implementing inherently safer technology can prevent major chemical incidents. While calling EPA's proposed modification to the process hazard analysis provisions in section 68.67 regarding analysis of potential safer technology and alternatives a step in the right direction, CSB asked EPA to adopt more robust requirements regarding the use of inherently safer systems analysis and the hierarchy of controls. "The EPA's current proposed language requires owners or operators to 'consider' inherently safer technology (IST) or design during the PHA process only. The CSB believes this permissive language results in an activity-based requirement; meaning, the company can poorly perform the analysis and still satisfy the requirement," the board stated, adding that this was the case in CSB's investigation of the Aug. 6, 2012 accident at the Chevron Richmond refinery in Richmond, Calif., "where the refinery repeatedly implemented inherently safer systems inadequately, ultimately contributing to the pipe rupture and fire. Despite these deficiencies, however, Chevron still satisfied the regulatory requirements to 'consider' inherent safety."

The board said applying inherently safer technologies and the hierarchy of controls is a key opportunity for preventing major chemical incidents, and thus should apply to other key safety management elements, as well.

EPA's proposed rule should further emphasize the prevention of chemical incidents, according to the board, which said it encourages EPA to ensure that compliance with risk management plan provisions are predominantly the responsibility of facilities, rather than under-resourced LEPCs.

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