Wednesday, August 31, 2022

CSB Guidance on Reporting Accidental Chemical Releases

Yesterday, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) published their promised guidance document on the reporting of accidental chemical releases under 40 CFR 1604. As with any governmental ‘guidance’ document there is a lot of superfluous verbiage setting the background of the need of, and legal justification for, the base regulation. CSB does a better job than most with making this readable, but the first seven pages of the document can be skipped by all but the most ardent infophiles.

Pages 8 and 9 of the document provide a nicely done summary of what CSB expects when an accidental chemical release occurs. An interesting pull quote from page 9 reflects an unusual amount of bureaucratic naivete about corporate interests in reporting chemical incidents:

“Under the CSB’s Accidental Release Reporting Rule, it is always safer for an owner/operator to report, rather than fail to report. Thus, it is the CSB’s position that if an owner/operator is unsure whether the incident should be reported, the owner/operator should report, rather than risk violating the rule by failing to report. There is no sanction or enforcement action associated with reporting an accidental release, which in retrospect, did not have to be reported. The opposite, however, is not true. Failure to report an accidental release when required by this rule could lead to an enforcement action brought by the EPA.”

The remainder of the document is formatted in a frequently asked questions (FAQ) format. CSB does go beyond just quoting relevant parts of the regulation. For example, at the end of the reply to FAQ 2.11 on pages 10 and 11, CSB concludes the discussion by reminding folks that the intent of the rule is to provide CSB with the necessary information to determine if an investigation is warranted and then states:

“The CSB has and will continue to investigate matters involving the accidental releases of chemicals, petrochemicals, and hydrocarbons of all types, provided that a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damage is caused by the accidental release at issue.”

Any owner or facility manager for a facility that produces, uses, or handles hazardous chemicals of any sort, ought to have a copy of this document handy, and look at it periodically. Every EH&S manager needs to have read and understood this guidance before a chemical release incident takes place, probably before close of business yesterday.

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