A federal agency is recommending a major shift in the way refineries are regulated for safety, shifting more responsibility to the company and turning the system more proactive instead of reactive.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is recommending California adopt new safety regulations for refineries in its second of three reports on the Aug. 6, 2012, fire at the Chevron plant in Richmond, CA, that sent 15,000 residents to local hospitals for medical attention.
Specifically, the CSB calls on California to replace the current reactive regulations with more rigorous, performance-based ones used in several European countries that are known as the “safety case” system.
The safety case system requires companies to demonstrate to regulators how major hazards are to be controlled and risks reduced to levels that are “as low as reasonably practicable” (ALARP). This is done through a written safety case report. Demonstrating control of major hazards would be a pre-condition for a refinery to operate.
This shifts the responsibility for continuous reductions in major risks from regulators to the company. Under the current system, companies have a right to operate by default.
The safety case system also requires participation in the hazard prevention process by company employees. The CSB gave an example of how this could have prevented the Chevron fire.
Chevron employees recommended upgrading piping materials to prevent corrosion. Before the fire, Chevron repeatedly failed to implement the recommendations. California’s process safety regulations don’t require these preventive measures to be implemented. Under the safety case system, this type of continuous process improvement is required.
The CSB notes that it takes years for OSHA to make changes in its process safety management regulations. The CSB also criticizes federal agencies for lack of action on its recent recommendations:
“The CSB has made a number of process-safety related recommendations to OSHA and the EPA in its investigation reports and studies. However, none of these important regulatory recommendations have been implemented, and there have been no substantive changes made to the PSM (process safety management) or RMP (risk management plan) regulations to improve the prevention of major accidents.”
Under a safety case system changing safety standards, new technologies and findings from investigations are required to be incorporated by facilities.
For those watching the evolution (or lack thereof) of safety regulations in the U.S., the safety case system bears resemblance to the injury and illness prevention programs (I2P2), which has been called the top initiative of OSHA chief David Michaels. From OSHA’s I2P2 webpage:
“Most successful injury and illness prevention programs are based on a common set of key elements. These include: management leadership, worker participation, hazard identification, hazard prevention and control, education and training, and program evaluation and improvement.”
I2P2s also shift the burden of proving hazards are abated or controlled to the company and away from OSHA.
What do you think about CSB’s proposal for safety case systems? Let us know in the comments below.