OSHA Says It Will Not Enforce PSM Rule. . .Yet

OSHA has announced that it will delay enforcement of its revisions to the Process Safety Management standard (PSM) until July 22, 2016 — giving businesses an additional six months to prepare.

The PSM standard is a set of regulations requiring businesses handling, manufacturing, or storing hazardous chemicals to take steps to prevent accidents and unexpected releases. It mandates everything from written operating procedures to employee training. In 2001, OSHA said some facilities could qualify for an exemption from these requirements based on factors like customer base (e.g.: selling more than 50% of their hazardous chemical stock direct to end-user farmers). Most people believe this exemption was intended for only very small businesses, but there is evidence that large handlers of chemicals — such as the West Texas Fertilizer Co. — believed it applied to them as well.

As reported on this blog, in July of this year OSHA announced that it had revised its PSM exemption to make clear it applied only to the smallest retailers. OSHA said it would begin enforcing this revision of the exemption six months from when it was issued (i.e.: early 2016).

However, in a new announcement, OSHA has said that after “consultation with regulated stakeholders” regarding the PSM enforcement window, it now believes “12 months (as opposed to six originally proposed) is appropriate because online compliance tools were not available until mid-October and other compliance resources are limited.”

Despite delaying the onset of enforcement, OSHA made clear that it will remain active during this window, but “will focus its resources on providing compliance assistance to affected employers, engage key industry stakeholders,” and provide resources for “its State On-Site Consultation Projects.”

In response to this announcement, a group of 38 members of congress from both parties wrote a letter to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez asking him to: “immediately rescind the July 22 memorandum and begin a formal rulemaking process to better assess the impact of this change and allow for adequate stakeholder input.” The members of congress expressed concern that the new requirement would impose an onerous financial burden on businesses, and also fail to make businesses safer. Citing the West Texas Fertilizer explosion, they argued that the new PSM would needlessly regulate chemicals other than the ones causing the original accident. The letter also claimed that “after hearing from impacted constituents” the members of congress have determined that OSHA’s estimate of compliance costs at $2,100 per facility is off by a factor of nearly ten. The letter closes by asking OSHA to respond to these concerns, but does not provide a suggested deadline.

During this period of transition and controversy, it’s important for safety professionals to remember that erring on the side of safety is always the best policy — both for avoiding OSHA citations and keeping employees away from harm. Indeed, while the new announcement gives an extra six months before enforcement begins, it also says the “exception to this policy will be if OSHA discovers conditions at such a facility that expose workers to an immediate and severe danger” and that “the agency may consider enforcement action to address the immediate and severe danger.” Clearly, though the details of this exemption are still being ironed-out, protecting workers and community members from chemical hazards will remain a top (and enforceable) priority for OSHA. The VelocityEHS platform can help businesses manage against PSM with a variety of powerful tools combining the simplest user experience with the most comprehensive compliance management functionality on the market today. For more information, visit www.EHS.com.