OSHA Watch

7 FAQs on Newly Proposed OSHA Chemical Safety Rules

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: January 8th, 2014
Topics: HazCom | OSHA Inspections | Process Safety Management (PSM) |

proposed osha chemical safety rules changes


n December 9, 2013, OSHA proposed tentative changes to some of its most important chemical safety rules. Here’s a look at the changes, who they affect, what they require and when they would take effect.

Q1. How Would the Changes Affect Hazcom?

Answer: If you’re like most employers, Hazcom is the primary and maybe even only chemical safety standard you need to worry about. The good news is that the changes OSHA is proposing do not apply to Hazcom and “ordinary” chemical hazards—at least not directly.

Q2. Which Chemical Safety Rules Do the Proposal Affect?

Answer: The OSHA requirements affected are the ones covering facilities and operations involving not just hazardous but highly hazardous chemicals which pose the risk of explosion, community-altering chemical spills and other safety, health and environmental catastrophes, including:

  • Process Safety Management (PSM) (Sec. 1910.119) (almost all of the proposed changes apply to PSM);
  • Flammable liquids (Sec. 1910.106);
  • Spray finishing using flammable and combustible materials (Sec. 1910.107); and
  • Explosives and blasting agents (Sec. 1910.109).

Q3. Why Is OSHA Changing Its Chemical Safety Rules?

Answer: The OSHA changes are just a small piece in a national chemical safety and security program. It began in Texas on April 17, 2013, when a chemical explosion at the West Fertilizer Company storage plant killed 15 people and damaged over 150 buildings. Although the plant was subject to lots of different laws, quirks in the rules and lack of coordination caused it to fall through the cracks—OSHA hadn’t inspected the plant since 1985!

So in August, President Obama issued an order (officially known as Executive Order 13650) calling on the different agencies to get together and coordinate their chemical safety requirements and enforcement activities, including not just OSHA but the U.S.:

  • Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Department of Transportation; and
  • Department of Homeland Security.

Q4. What Are the Proposed Changes?

Answer: The proposal lists 16 changes OSHA is considering. Click here for a Checklist of each one. The key ones:

  • Make flammable liquid storage tanks connected to a process covered by the PSM subject to the PSM rules even if they’re less than 10,000 lbs.;
  • End PSM exemptions for oil and gas drilling operations, oil and gas production facilities and retail facilities;
  • Reduce the amounts of reactive chemicals (listed in Appendix A) that would trigger coverage of the PSM standard;
  • Add new reactive chemicals triggering PSM requirements to Appendix A;
  • Stricter rules for monitoring and following recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices (RAGAGEP);
  • Stricter emergency planning and PSM plan auditing requirements; and
  • Updated rules for storage, handling and management of ammonium nitrate.

Q5. Are the Changes a Formal Proposal?

Answer: No. The Dec. 9 proposal is a list of changes OSHA is thinking about proposing. Explanation: Executive Order 13650 requires OSHA to submit its list of proposed changes by November 1, 2013. The government shutdown threw off the schedule. That’s why OSHA didn’t produce the proposal until Dec. 9

Q6. What Happens Next?

Answer: The next step is for OSHA to collect comments on the changes so it can prepare a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The working group of representatives working on implementing the Executive Order (including the OSHA changes) is holding “listening sessions” with the public in January 2014.

Although the Executive Order doesn’t give a precise regulatory timetable, the next phase would be for OSHA to issue an NPRM. The final rule would take effect 90 days after the NPRM appears in the Federal Register.

Q7. When Will the Changes Take Effect?

Answer: OSHA regulatory changes normally move at the pace of a snail carrying a 10 ton weight on its back up a hill. But because they’re part of a national effort initiated by an Executive Order from the President, these chemical safety changes are likely to be put on a fast track.

We’ll keep you apprised once timing and further details emerge.