“Habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them, either. They keep you.”  —Frank Crane

You’ve done it! You found a way to operate your process without ever going over the 10,000 lb threshold quantity for flammable liquids or gases. You’ve found substitutes for the toxic chemicals in Appendix A. Your process is not covered by the Process Safety Management Standard, 29 CFR 1910.119. You are free! Free from that whole set of annoying regulations. PSM is not your problem anymore.


The Combustible Dust Standard

Consider OSHA’s enforcement of the Combustible Dust Standard.  Wait? What? Combustible Dust Standard? You’re right. OSHA has never gotten around to developing a combustible dust standard. Instead, they have cobbled together excerpts from various other standards and the general duty clause, and created a very effective enforcement program for addressing combustible dust hazards.

Likewise, OSHA can enforce a process safety program, even when the PSM Standard does not apply. If the Process Safety Management Standard did not exist, OSHA would still be able to cobble together excerpts from various other standards and the general duty clause to create a process safety management enforcement program. Perhaps not organized into a tidy 14 elements, but an enforcement program, nonetheless. No chemical processing facility should ever believe that just because they are not covered by the PSM standard that they do not have process safety management responsibilities.

Some Obvious Examples

There are several instances in the PSM Standard that OSHA simply points to other regulations and says, in essence, make sure you follow these other regulations. These references include

29 CFR 1910.119(f)(4) Safe work practices
This paragraph of the PSM Standard lists four examples of safe work practices that OSHA expects for PSM-covered processes to have. In two cases, this simply reimposes requirements already established in other regulations:

  •   29 CFR 1910.146, Permit-required confined spaces, and
  •   29 CFR 1910.147, Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout).

29 CFR 1910.119(k)(2) Hot work permit
In this paragraph of the PSM Standard, OSHA comes right out and says that it is simply restating the requirements they’ve spelled out in

  •  29 CFR 1910.252(a), Welding, Cutting, and Brazing-General requirements.

29 CFR 1910.119(n) Emergency planning and response
This paragraph of the PSM Standard has one specific requirement: a written procedure about how to handle small chemical spills. Otherwise, it simply invokes

  •   29 CFR 1910.38, Emergency Action Plans, and
  •   29 CFR 1910.120, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response.

These are just a few of the regulatory requirements that exist, whether or not your process is covered under the PSM Standard. A cynical view might be that their inclusion in the PSM standard is simply to give OSHA the power to cite you twice if you fail to comply. A more charitable view is that OSHA wants to be sure that employers operating PSM-covered processes are full aware of their need to comply with these standards in order to make their processes safe.

Some Less Obvious Examples

There are also requirements in the PSM Standard that are addressed by other regulations, but differently.

29 CFR 1910.119(e) Process Hazard Analysis
While the PHA requirements of the PSM Standard are very detailed, other regulations also require for employers to evaluate hazards. One that OSHA has prosecuted aggressively is

  •   29 CFR 1910.132, Personal Protective Equipment-General Requirements.

This PPE Standard says,

(d) “The employer shall assess the workplace to determine if hazards are present, or are likely to be present, which necessitate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). If such hazards are present, or likely to be present, the employer shall:  Select, and have each affected employee use, the types of PPE that will protect the affected employee from the hazards identified in the hazard assessment; Communicate selection decisions to each affected employee; and, Select PPE that properly fits each affected employee.”

This hazard assessment can be simple in uncomplicated workplaces, but OSHA can push pretty hard against employers whose assessments they deem insufficient. The requirement to “determine if hazards are present, or are likely to be present” doesn’t differ much from the requirements of a PHA.

29 CFR 1910.119(m) Incident investigation
Although the requirements in the PSM standard for incident investigations are more rigorous and apply to near misses as well actual incidents, OSHA already has other incident investigation requirements spelled out:

  •   29 CFR 1904, Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses.

Process Safety Information

One of the most difficult elements of PSM with which to comply is 29 CFR 1910.119(d), Process Safety Information. This element divides the requirements up into information about the chemicals, about the technology, and about the equipment.

29 CFR 1910.119(d)(1) Information pertaining to the hazards of highly hazardous chemicals.
The requirements of this paragraph are largely duplicated in

  •   29 CFR 1900.1200, Hazard Communication.

Regardless of the PSM Standard, employers need to have this information available and formally share it with their employees.

Then there is the really difficult paragraph regarding equipment. Consider these three specific requirements:

29 CFR 1910.119(d)(3)(i)(C) Electrical classification
This reference simply reimposes the requirements that are already spelled out in

  •   29 CFR 1910.106, Flammable Liquids, and
  •   29 CFR 1910.307, Hazardous (classified) locations.

The need for classifying hazardous locations and then assuring that electrical equipment and fork trucks comply with those classifications are not dependent on threshold quantities.

1910.119(d)(3)(i)(D) Relief system design and design basis
The Flammable Liquids standard, already mentioned, also requires that relief systems be designed and installed for any vessel containing flammable liquids.

1910.119(d)(3)(i)(E) Ventilation system design
Likewise, the Flammable Liquids standard spells out requirements for ventilation in facilities that store or use flammable liquids.

The General Duty Clause

In addition to the volumes of regulations upon which OSHA can rely to enforce safety in a process facility, it has the general duty clause—5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act—itself. It’s not just a regulation, it’s a law.

To refresh your memory, the general duty clause requires that “each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

If a code or consensus standard anywhere addresses a hazard, that means it is recognized. So, all the NFPA, API, AIChE, CCPS, ASME, and other codes, while not necessarily enforceable, are a basis for showing that a hazard is recognized. Then its on you to show that what you are doing leaves your workplace free from these recognized hazards.

Verla International

A fatal fire in November 2017 at Verla International’s cosmetics plant in New Windsor, New York recently resulted in a $281,220 citation from OSHA. The fire resulted from the plant’s use of Category 2 flammable liquids, but the plant was not covered under the PSM Standard. The citation did not refer to the PSM standard. Instead, the citations were based on violations of

  •   29 CFR 1904.7, General recording criteria
  •   29 CFR 1910.38, Emergency Action Plans
  •   29 CFR 1910.106, Flammable Liquids
  •   29 CFR 1910.120, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response
  •   29 CFR 1910.307, Hazardous (classified) locations

For good measure, OSHA also cited Verla International for violations of the Walking and Working Surfaces standards, the fire extinguisher standard, the compressed air standard, and other electrical safety standards.

Process Safety Management vs. the PSM Standard

This bears repeating: “No chemical processing facility should ever believe that just because they are not covered by the PSM standard that they do not have process safety management responsibilities.” There are things we do to comply with a regulation. There are things we do to be safe. Many times, they are the same thing. Whether or not your chemical process has avoided being covered by the PSM standard, consider whether it has chemical process hazards. If your process has any of the process hazards addressed by the PSM Standard—fires, explosions, or toxic releases—you need to be concerned about process safety management, even if you don’t have to comply with the Process Safety Management Standard.

Even when you are not required to comply with the PSM Standard, take a long hard look at it. Those 14 elements will go a long way to keeping your employees safe and your facility running.