Chemical plant safetySafety engineers welcome Obama’s chemical facility safety Executive Order

Published 12 August 2013

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) said it supports President Obama’s Executive Order to improve federal agency coordination of U.S. chemical facility safety and security oversight. The ASSE notes that while the causes of each chemical incident are unique and require careful investigation to help ensure similar incidents do not reoccur, common to every incident are the often overlapping and sometimes confusing layers of regulatory responsibility over facilities where potentially harmful chemicals are produced or stored.

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) said it supports President Obama’s Executive Order to improve federal agency coordination of U.S. chemical facility safety and security oversight.

The ASSE notes that while the causes of each chemical incident are unique and require careful investigation to help ensure similar incidents do not reoccur, common to every incident are the often overlapping and sometimes confusing layers of regulatory responsibility over facilities where potentially harmful chemicals are produced or stored.  Requiring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to lead an effort to improve coordination and work together to improve safety and security with a specific timeline of expectations is thus the best approach in addressing a significant threat to the American people.

ASSE said it was also pleased that the importance of cooperation with industry, consensus standards organizations, and other stakeholders in identifying safety and security best practices is embraced in the Executive Order. ASSE’s member safety, health, and environmental (SH&E) professionals include experts in OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard, EPA’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) Standard, and DHS’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).  Their importance in the success of this effort cannot be overlooked, especially in any re-examination of OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM). ASSE says that as with every other OSHA standard, PSM deserves re-examination and updating. ASSE members, however, view the advancement that resulted from the standard’s adoption as a significant step forward, largely due to the standard’s reliance on best practices SH&E professionals had already put into practice.  Any changes to PSM, RMP, or CFATS must again involve SH&E professionals who deal with, and who understand, the strengths and weakness of the standard.

ASSE said it thanks President Obama for addressing the troubling difficulties the Chemical Safety Board and other federal investigative agencies have experienced in coordinating investigations of chemical facility explosions.  Earlier this year ASSE called on Congress to require this administration to bring these agencies together to develop a solution that respects each agency’s contributions. ASSE says it is confident that this Executive Order will help them achieve a more cooperative approach.

“President Obama’s action appropriately takes needed steps to improve the protections from chemical explosions and other incidents that American workers, their families and the public deserve.  ASSE and its members look forward to working with each agency, employers and other stakeholders to advance those protections,” the organization’s statement said.

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