The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) published a meeting notice in today’s Federal Register (81 FR 7744-7745) for a public meeting of the Board in Washington, DC on February 23, 2016. This will be a business meeting rather than a hearing about a specific incident.
The agenda for the meeting includes:
• The status of open investigations;
• Advocacy related to the State of California's Process Safety Management (PSM) reforms;
• The status of audits from the Office of the Inspector General;
• Financial and organizational updates; and
• A review of the agency's action plan
This is a public meeting with no advance registration requirement. For those not able to attend in person there is also a conference phone line available. There will be a public comment period included in the meeting. There are no specific provisions in the meeting notice for the provision of written comments.
The California PSM reform topic in the agenda is worded a little vaguely. I would assume that this is advocacy on the part of the CSB. This would be California’s interpretation of the safety case management plan that some of the board members have suggested is a more effective method of safety management than currently used by Federal regulators.
I am not sure that ‘advocacy’ is a term, however, that chemical manufacturers really want to hear from the CSB. There has long been some dissatisfaction from that community with the Boards advocacy in the regulatory arena. They would much rather see the board take a more clearly investigatory and root cause analysis track, rather than getting involved in setting regulatory agendas.
The other side of that point of view has been as adamantly taken by the labor and community activist proponents. They point out that the chemical safety expertise of the Board puts them in a particularly good position to point out regulatory short comings that allow unsafe conditions to continue to exist in regulated industries.
I think that some sort of middle ground approach is probably going to be more effective in the long haul. Where accident investigations point out obvious chemical safety issues related to regulatory matters, such as the lack of land use restrictions around potentially dangerous chemical facilities, the Board has an obligation to make recommendations to correct those specific regulatory deficiencies. Taking an active advocacy position of a general regulatory nature will probably detract, however, from the Board’s influence with the chemical manufacturing community.
Since the CSB has no regulatory authority of its own, its effectiveness as a promoter of chemical safety is directly related to the influence the Board has on the chemical industry and on the regulatory agencies at the Federal, State and local level. Doing anything to reduce that influence would be counter productive.