Will RMP and PSM revisions create more overlap?
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September 27, 2016
Will RMP and PSM revisions create more overlap?
By Timothy P Fagan, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

EPA’s Chemical Accident Prevention Program, more commonly referred to as the Risk Management Program (RMP), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Process Safety Management (PSM) program will always go hand in hand, as both seek to prevent chemical process accidents and protect workers and the public from the sometimes devastating consequences of such accidents. To enhance that protection, Executive Order 13650 prompted a review of the regulations for both the RMP and the PSM program.

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Much has been written on the impending revisions to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) RMP regulations. However, OSHA is quietly progressing on its own PSM revisions, as the agency convened a Small Business Review Panel (SBRP) earlier this summer to review some of the changes being considered.

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There has always been some overlap in the requirements of the RMP and PSM program, but will the upcoming revisions bring these programs further into lockstep or send them on divergent paths requiring more effort to comply with both? In general, the members of OSHA’s SBRP indicated that preparing one set of documents to comply with both the RMP and the PSM program is not difficult but urged the agency to consider greater harmonization of the standards, language, and interpretations going forward.

Upcoming changes

Let’s review some the changes being proposed/considered for both programs and determine if the programs are headed for greater harmony.

List of regulated chemicals. The EPA proposed no changes to the list of chemicals subject to RMP. However, OSHA is considering expanding the list of chemicals subject to the PSM program. While it is unlikely that these two lists will be completely harmonized, the SBRP recommended that if OSHA is to add chemicals already regulated under the RMP, it should do so at concentration thresholds identical to the EPA standard. For example, if OSHA opts to add hydrochloric acid to the PSM list, it should be added at a concentration threshold of 37 percent, which is how it is regulated under the RMP.

Safer technology and alternatives analysis (STAA). OSHA is considering requiring an STAA to ensure facilities are properly considering the hierarchy of controls. The EPA is proposing to add an STAA requirement, but only for facilities in the paper manufacturing, petroleum and coal products manufacturing, and chemical manufacturing sectors with Program 3 processes.

Mechanical integrity. Currently, the mechanical integrity requirements under the RMP and the PSM program cover the same categories of equipment. The EPA has proposed no significant changes to the mechanical integrity requirements, but OSHA is considering expanding its mechanical integrity requirements to what the agency calls all “critical” equipment.

Emergency planning. Proposed EPA revisions will require all Program Level 2 and Program Level 3 facilities to coordinate with the local emergency response agencies at least once a year to ensure that resources and capabilities are in place to respond to any accidental releases and to ensure that emergency contact information is up to date. In addition, proposed RMP revisions include requirements to conduct emergency drills. Current PSM regulations contain no such emergency planning requirements, but OSHA is considering adding additional requirements for emergency response planning similar to EPA’s proposal, including coordination with local responders, conducting emergency drills, and evaluation of local emergency response capabilities.

Root cause analysis. RMP proposed revisions require all facilities with Program Level 2 or Level 3 processes to conduct root cause analyses as part of any incident investigation of a catastrophic release or a “near miss.” OSHA is considering adding a similar requirement to conduct a root cause analysis of all incidents that require an investigation under the current PSM standard, which includes each incident that resulted in, or could reasonably have resulted in, a catastrophic release of a highly hazardous chemical.

Third-party audits. Both the proposed RMP regulations and the PSM revisions under consideration include provisions for conducting third-party compliance audits. RMP stakeholders and OSHA’s SBRP have all voiced significant concerns over such provisions.

Other PSM changes. Other changes to the PSM requirements include:

  • Expanding PSM coverage and requirements for reactive chemical hazards;
  • Expanding the PSM program to cover the dismantling and disposal of explosives, blasting agents, and pyrotechnics;
  • Enhancing employee participation and establishing stopwork authority;
  • Periodic evaluation of processes with respect to updates in applicable recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices (RAGAGEP);
  • Requiring documentation approving the actions taken or lack thereof in order to resolve the recommendations of a process hazard analysis team; and
  • Codifying interpretations, such as the retail exemption interpretation.

Overlap outlook

While these two regulatory programs will never be completely harmonized, it appears that the EPA and OSHA are, for the most part, making efforts to simplify compliance for facilities that are subject to both the RMP and the PSM program by harmonizing areas of overlap between the two standards. In most cases, it appears OSHA is following EPA’s lead. This is further evidenced by OSHA revising its policy on the concentration of a chemical that must be present in a process for the purpose of determining whether the chemical is at or above the threshold quantity to bring it in line with the method adopted by the EPA.

Improved harmonization will simplify, and thus improve, compliance. And, hopefully, OSHA will further facilitate compliance by heeding the recommendation of its SBRP and create a matrix detailing the areas of overlap and divergence between the RMP and the PSM program.

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