Is Your Company Prepared for OSHA’s New NEP for Chemical Facilities?

Chemical Industry Update

Date: May 09, 2012


On November 29, 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) for chemical facilities to protect workers from the catastrophic release of highly hazardous chemicals.

The new NEP replaces OSHA's 2009 chemical facility NEP, which was limited to only three regions in the country (and did not include Ohio). The nationwide program establishes policies and procedures for inspecting chemical facilities covered by OSHA's Process Safety Management (PSM) standard, 29 CFR ? 1910.119. All state plans are required to participate in the program.

Under the new chemical NEP, OSHA will assemble a master list for each region based on employers who submitted Program Three Risk Management Plans to the EPA, have explosives-manufacturing NAICS codes, appear in OSHA's enforcement database as having been cited in the past for PSM issues, and are known to each OSHA area office as operating a PSM-covered process. Any workplace selected for inspection under OSHA's site-specific targeting plan that also operates a PSM-covered process will be inspected under the NEP. Inspections arising from an employee complaint, referral, or incident involving a PSM issue also will be conducted under the chemical NEP. Complaints, referrals, and incidents unrelated to PSM may still result in an inspection under the chemical NEP at the OSHA area director's discretion.

OSHA will attempt to identify "the most hazardous process" of units selected for inspection under the NEP based on several factors. The factors include quantity of chemicals in the process, age of the process unit, number of workers and/or contractors present, incident and near-miss reports and other history, input from the union or operators, ongoing maintenance activities, and compliance audit findings.

The process for inspection includes a "dynamic list of questions" that will be rotated periodically and will not be publicly disclosed. The questions are designed to determine compliance with PSM requirements and specifically focus on verifying that the employer's PSM program is being implemented in the field. The questions are accompanied by guidance for compliance officers on the documents to request, interview topics and questions to cover, and potential citations to issue. Each dynamic list includes 10 to 15 primary questions and five secondary questions. The questions are designed to elicit a "Yes," "No," or "N/A" response to determine PSM compliance; a "No" response normally will result in a citation. OSHA's published instructions provide further details and list the documents and presentations that OSHA will request during chemical NEP inspections.

Recent PSM Citations

Since the new chemical NEP became effective, OSHA has issued several press releases to publicize recent citations and significant fines for alleged PSM violations:

  • Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. (Wisconsin) - Multiple serious citations; proposed fines of $146,400. Alleged violations relate to operating procedures for system startup, procedures for maintaining process equipment, reviewing operating procedures for accuracy, equipment inspections and testing at required intervals, correcting deficiencies noted in audits, and investigating incidents on system equipment.
  • Case Farms Processing, Inc. (Ohio) - Multiple serious citations; proposed fines of $288,000. Alleged violations relate to deficiencies in process safety information, process hazard analysis, operating procedures, employee training, mechanical integrity, management of change, incident investigation, and response to compliance audits.
  • Loveland Products, Inc. (Nebraska) - Multiple citations; proposed fines of $148,000. Alleged violations relate to process and implementation diagrams, process hazard analysis, operating procedures, mechanical integrity programs, inspections and tests, hot work permits, compliance audits, and follow-up on audit findings.
  • Sanimax, Inc. (Wisconsin) - Multiple serious citations; proposed fines of $76,500. Alleged violations relate to safe limits for temperatures, pressures, flows, and compositions; documentation of equipment compliance with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices; inspections and tests of process equipment; procedures for management of change; process hazard analysis on hydrogen storage and transfer unit; conducting management of change analysis when required; and response to deficiencies noted in audits.

With its increased attention on PSM violations under the new NEP, it will not be surprising to see OSHA issue more press releases like these.

Actions to Take

The chemical NEP has no expiration date, and each OSHA area office is required to complete three to five programmed inspections per year. The program also encourages turning single issues into multiple violations. For example, OSHA advises that a single valve change can involve 11 different PSM elements, and that compliance officers should consider citing each as an individual citation item. The new chemical NEP and OSHA's recent enforcement publicity illustrate the importance of chemical facilities being prepared for these inspections.