Friday, June 12, 2015

RAGAGEP Interpretation

As I promised in an earlier blog post today I would like to take a look at the recently published RAGAEGP ( Recognized and Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practices) interpretation memo from OSHA. Procedurally this is a tad bit different than the concentrations guidance I discussed earlier in that it is not a change in guidance but rather a new guidance being published by OSHA.

First off, let’s clarify that these memos are not supposed to be new regulations or requirements being placed upon facilities. These are supposed to be guidance to inspection and enforcement personnel to ensure that everyone is working on the same sheet of music and what is acceptable in one region or State or even facility is not different than what is acceptable in another. Facilities are, of course, free to use this guidance to try to avoid inspection or enforcement issues.


The Memo begins by admitting that RAGAEGP is not specifically defined in the PSM Standard (29 CFR 119). It does, however, mention that it is specifically reference or implied in the standard in three places.

The first one mention is in the requirement for the employer to “document that all equipment in PSM-covered processes complies with RAGAGEP” in §119(d)(3)(ii). That paragraph applies to information pertaining to equipment in the covered process and reads:

“The employer shall document that equipment complies with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices.”

The second mention is in the requirement to ensure that inspections and tests are “performed on process equipment subject to the standard’s mechanical integrity requirements in accordance with RAGAGEP” in §119(j)(4)(ii). That paragraph reads:

“Inspection and testing procedures shall follow recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices.”

And the third mention deals with the frequency of the inspections and testing required above in §119(j)(4)(iii). That paragraph reads:

“The frequency of inspections and tests of process equipment shall be consistent with applicable manufacturers’ recommendations [emphasis added] and good engineering practices, and more frequently if determined to be necessary by prior operating experience.”
So, two of the three referenced RAGAGEP requirements are fairly clearly stated in the standard. The implication of a RAGAGEP standard is less clear in the third instance and is clearly modified by a requirement to follow the equipment manufacturer’s recommendations for inspections and testing where those recommendations exist.

There is a fourth RAGAGEP instance mentioned in the Memo. It references §119(d)(3)(iii) in referring to existing equipment that was designed and constructed under codes that no longer considered current. That section reads:

“For existing equipment designed and constructed in accordance with codes, standards, or practices that are no longer in general use, the employer shall determine and document that the equipment is designed, maintained, inspected, tested, and operating in a safe manner.”

There is clearly no reference to RAGAGEP in this requirement.

What Standards Apply

Since the PSM standard does not specify what constitutes RAGAGEP, the Memo tries to establish some clarity around that subject. First it notes that the employer is free to select whichever RAGAGEP standard they want to apply to their process. It then goes on to describe the various types of external standards that exist:

Published and widely adopted codes;
Published consensus documents; and
Published non-consensus documents

OSHA recognizes that there are enough unique chemical manufacturing situations that external standards may not apply in full or even in part to all facilities. Acknowledging this, the Memo makes it clear that documented internal standards that “meet or exceed the protective requirements of published RAGAGEP where such RAGAGEP exist” may effectively be used where they:

Translate the requirements of published RAGAGEP into detailed corporate or facility implementation programs and/or procedures;
Set design, installation, maintenance, inspection, and testing requirements for unique processes, equipment, and hazards for which no published RAGAGEP exists;
Supplement (or augmenting) published RAGAGEP that only partially or inadequately address the employer’s processes, occupancies, conditions, and hazards. In this situation OSHA (and often the publisher) expect employers/users to supplement the published RAGAGEP with their own applicable practices, protocols, and procedures to control hazards;
Control hazards more effectively than the available codes, standards, or practices; or
Address hazards when the codes and standards used for existing equipment are outdated and no longer describe good engineering practice.

Interpreting RAGAGEP

The Memo includes a brief English language discussion about some common terms that can be found in published RAGAGEP. It stresses that mandating language (words like ‘shall’, ‘must’ and the overlooked ‘will’) mean that not complying with the subsequently described actions will constitute a presumption of a PSM violation. There is, however, no discussion of what a facility might have to do to overcome that presumption if they have found that instance of the RAGAGEP to be unsafe in their specific application or the facility has found a safer way to accomplish the same objective.

Interestingly, the discussion of the term ‘should’ does provide for a possible determination that an alternative method provides a better solution to situation. It does require an employer to properly document the reasoning and then note that it is up to an investigator’s or inspector’s judgement to accept that reasoning.

Writing Violations

Under the heading of ‘enforcement consideration’ is a list of 16 instructions that are clearly written to help inspectors ‘properly’ cite offenders of the RAGAGEP provisions of the PSM Standard. Most of these appear to be written to ensure that violations are properly documented so that they stand up under administrative or legal review. Even so, they should be carefully read by anyone involve in PSM program management at the facility level.


This new PSM interpretation memo is clearly different in effect than the previously discussed concentration guidance. It does not change an existing guidance history, rather it clarifies what the current OSHA management sees as the intent of the regulation as written.

What is disappointing is the lack of guidance on how to deal with situations where existing equipment was designed under RAGAGEP that is no longer recognized as current. While the situation is mentioned in the .Background’ section of the Memo, there is no further discussion about how to tie current RAGAGEP to such equipment.

The only place where this is addressed is in enforcement consideration #10. And that simply restates the requirements of §119(d)(3)(iii) when it says:

“Older covered equipment may not have been designed and constructed under an applicable RAGAGEP because none existed at the time of design and construction. Alternatively, the equipment may have been designed and constructed under provisions of codes, standards, or practices that are no longer in general use.  In such cases, 29 CFR 1910.119(d)(3)(iii) requires employers to determine and document that the equipment is designed, maintained, inspected, tested, and operating in a safe manner.  Failure to do so may be cited under 1910.119(d)(3)(iii).”

Apparently a document that states that the equipment predates the existing RAGAGEP and that an engineering review has been conducted and it has been found that “the equipment is designed, maintained, inspected, tested, and operating in a safe manner” is all that the PSM Standard requires. There is no discussion of any sort of requirements to document how that finding was made.

Also missing is any discussion of how, moving forward, a facility will deal with future changes in the various RAGAGEP that are developed. Based upon the (d)(3)(iii) discussion above, simply documenting the date of the original version of RAGAGEP that was used would not be sufficient.

It appears, but it is certainly not stated in the Memo, that anytime a RAGAGEP used by a facility is updated, modified or changed, that a facility could change all existing PSM documents to reflect that an older version was used for the setting design, maintenance and inspection standards for that equipment and that an engineering review had established that the equipment “is designed, maintained, inspected, tested, and operating in a safe manner”. The discussion in enforcement consideration #10 would then seem to preclude any other RAGAGEP findings about that equipment.

This hole in the guidance memo is one of the reason that things of this sort really should be put through the publication and comment process. It provides for a more complete understanding on the part of both the regulator and the regulated community. I am really surprised that OSHA did not take the initiative and do this given the concerns that were expressed by industry about the RAGAGEP portion of the standard in the PSM RFI.

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