White House Puts Chemicals Under the Spotlight

Earlier this month President Obama issued an Executive Order titled: Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security. Aimed at facilities where chemicals are manufactured, stored and used, the Executive Order intends to improve safety and security measures to further the goal of preventing major chemical accidents.

The explosion in West, Texas this past April is a reminder that the handling and storage of chemicals are not without risk. Often, the population at risk extends beyond the walls of the facility and includes emergency responders and the surrounding community. The Executive Order seeks to review and modify information-collection and sharing practices between government bodies, other appropriate parties and the Federal Government so as to improve prevention of, preparation for and response to chemical incidents.

Chemical manufacturers, distributors, employers – everyone involved in the lifecycle of hazardous chemicals – should be on alert for changes to chemical and risk management regulatory programs.

What will the Executive Order do?

  • Establish the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group: Comprised of the heads or designated representatives of the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Transportation, the Working Group will consult with government agencies and offices and key stakeholders, meet once a quarter, and provide a status report to the President within 270 days.
  • Revise Federal Coordination, Information Collection and Sharing Between Government Bodies: The Working Group will develop a plan to create a more unified Federal approach to identifying and responding to risks in chemical facilities, incident reporting and response procedures, enforcement, and collection, storage, and use of facility information. One goal of the plan will be to modify processes to improve first responder access to relevant hazardous chemical information in a useable format.
  • Update Hazardous Chemical Policy, Regulation, and Standards: The Executive Order requires the Working Group to identify improvements to existing risk management practices through agency programs, to engage key stakeholders to discuss the options, and to develop a plan for implementing changes to chemical risk management programs.
  • Work to Improve Communication on the State and Local Level: A major goal is for the working group to identify ways to ensure that "State homeland security advisors, State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERCs), Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs), State regulators, and first responders have ready access to key information in a useable format, including by thoroughly reviewing categories of chemicals for which information is provided to first responders and the manner in which it is made available, so as to prevent, prepare for, and respond to chemical incidents...[and] identify opportunities and mechanisms to improve response procedures and to enhance information sharing and collaborative planning between chemical facility owners and operators, TEPCs, LEPCs, and first responders"

How can facility owners prepare?

  • Keep an eye out for modifications to risk management programs and regulations. It is possible that additional regulated substances and types of hazards will be added to the Risk Management Program (RMP) and the Process Safety Management Standard (PSM), per review by the Working Group over the first 90 days of the order. The Executive Order also calls for the identification of chemicals that should be considered for addition to the CFATS Chemicals of Interest list.
  • Facilities with ammonium nitrate should pay attention. New regulatory and legislative proposals will be developed to improve ammonium nitrate safety and security. Facilities manufacturing or in possession of large quantities of ammonium nitrate should be prepared to potentially modify current safe handling and storage standard operating procedures and emergency preparedness plans.
  • Facilities currently in non-compliance with Federal regulations or that have not provided all required information should be prepared for increased scrutiny. Part of the Executive Order requires the Working Group to develop an analysis and recommendations on ways to improve information sharing to help identify non-compliant chemical facilities. Targeted OSHA inspections are likely to occur as the order is implemented. If your facility is out of compliance, take some time to review your facility’s safe handling and storage procedures, emergency preparedness plans, and any other Federal compliance requirements you may be obligated to meet.

Looking Forward

The executive order suggests that the Federal Government is taking chemical safety and security seriously. Recent events such as the West, Texas explosion remind us that there is still a lot that the Federal Government can do to prevent tragedies and improve workplace safety. Improving communication of hazardous chemical information across Federal departments to help identify potentially dangerous situations can and will save lives.

There are chemical management solutions available in the marketplace from providers such as MSDSonline that can make it easier for companies to track and report on chemicals throughout its facilities, provide critical safety information to employees, and ultimately create a safer and more productive workplace. For more information about our services, visit our website at www.msdsonline.com or call 1-888-362-2007.