Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Draft OSHA PSM Guidance Documents Published

Yesterday I received an interesting email from the folks at DHS that are providing administrative support for the DHS-OSHA-EPA response to the President’s Executive Order on Improving Chemical Safety and Security (EO 13650). The email reported that OSHA had published three new draft guidance documents for their Process Safety Management (PSM) program and noted that OSHA was soliciting public comments about these documents.

The three new guidance documents are for [NOTE: all links are for .PDF downloads]:

A brief review of the Storage Facility guidance document did not show any new information or outline any new requirements not already spelled out in the PSM guidance document. It looks like the intent is to provide a fairly brief (15 page) overview of the PSM requirements for facilities that may have thought that the PSM standard did not really apply to them. If that is the intent a brief section outlining how a facility determines if it is covered by the standard would have been appropriate.

OSHA is soliciting public comments on these documents. Written comments may be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (; Docket #OSHA-2016-0021).


I have two points of interest to discuss without having done a detailed review of any of the three documents. The first is a complaint about the administration of this process and the second is a pet peeve about the PSM program.

I am very disappointed in the way that OSHA is going about this publish and comment process. There is no notification about these documents on the OSHA EO 13650 web site nor has there been a notice published in the Federal Register. That combined with the very short (30-day) comment period makes me wonder just how interested OSHA and the Administration is in receiving public comments on these documents.

Since these are just guidance documents with no real information, I suppose OSHA is under no legal obligation to go through a formal publish and comment process. But, if you want to keep up appearances, especially this late in the life of the current Administration, then a formal publication of a request for comments in the Federal Register with a reasonable 60-day comment period would seem to be much more appropriate.

There are a series of ‘frequently asked questions’ at the end of the guidance documents and one of those in the Storage Facilities document (and most likely the others) is responsible for triggering a mini-diatribe about the major failing (IMNSHO) of the PSM program. The FAQ asks: “Must employers inform OSHA if the standard applies to them?” The OSHA response (in part) is very important:

“No. Unlike various other environmental, health, and safety regulations, the PSM standard does not have notification or reporting requirements. This means employers do not need to inform OSHA whether or not they meet the PSM applicability criteria. They need only ensure that they fully comply with the mandatory PSM requirements for all processes that meet the applicability criteria.”

This is one of the reasons (another being a totally inadequately sized inspection force) that PSM covered facilities seldom see an OSHA inspector until after a major accident has occurred; an accident that frequently would have been prevented if the PSM standard had been met. While some facilities deliberately ignore the safety standard, most facilities (particularly the smaller ones) fail to meet the standards set forth in the PSM program out of program ignorance and the lack of chemical safety experience. An active compliance inspection program before accidents happen would certainly help reduce the accident rates.

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