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August 26, 2014
RMP: Changes are coming
By Timothy P Fagan, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

In April 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, killed 15 people, injured hundreds, and caused widespread damage.  This event and others like it over the course of the last decade prompted President Obama to issue Executive Order (E.O.) 13650, titled Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security, on August 1, 2013. 

Under the E.O., the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group was formed with personnel from numerous federal agencies and offices, including the EPA, OSHA, and the Department of Homeland Security.  In order to enhance the safety and security of chemical facilities and reduce the risks of hazardous chemicals to owners and operators, workers, and communities, the Working Group was charged with developing plans and recommendations to:

  • Improve operational coordination between federal authorities and state, local, and tribal partners;
  • Enhance coordination and information collection and sharing among federal agencies;
  • Modernize key policies, regulations, and standards, including EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP); and
  • Identify best practices to reduce safety risks and security risks in the production and storage of potentially harmful chemicals.

In May 2014, the Working Group released its Report for the President, titled Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security—A Shared Commitment, and among the recommendations for modernizing the RMP regulations were:

  • The addition or deletion of chemicals and/or chemical hazards;
  • Establishing an obligation to track and conduct root cause analyses of frequent process events and near misses;
  • Requiring employers to implement a stop work authority for employees who witness an activity that creates a threat of danger;
  • Revising mechanical integrity requirements of safety-related equipment;
  • Strengthening contractor safety requirements;
  • Establishing mechanisms to implement the newest available technologies and methods;
  • Requiring compliance audits be done by an independent auditor;
  • Establishing new performance measurement and management review requirements;
  • Clarifying the frequency of process hazard analyses (PHA) and what is required for an update;
  • Clarifying emergency planning requirements to ensure effective coordination with community responders and ensuring facility personnel practice the plans; and
  • Recalculation of RMP reporting thresholds and toxic endpoints for off-site consequence analyses.

In addition, the EPA published a Request for Information (RFI) in the Federal Register on July 31, 2014, seeking additional information and comments on ways to enhance and modernize the RMP.   Based on RFI, for which the comment period closes October 29, 2014, and the recommendations of the Working Group, the EPA plans to propose appropriate amendments to the RMP in 2015 and finalize the amendments in 2016.

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