The EPA is currently making a move to overhaul the now 25-year old Risk Management Program (RMP) in response to a White House directive intending to provide more safety in chemical refineries. The RMP regulation governs how companies operate when using particularly hazardous compounds and chemical processes. The proposed changes stem from multiple large industrial accidents that occurred in 2013.
After industrial accidents, the RMP currently requires an internal audit, which some groups claim is a conflict of interest. The proposed changes would now see a third-party audit as a requirement instead. The conditions that determine whether a company is bound by the regulation are also very antiquated. For example, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has recommended the EPA add several highly reactive substances to its list of hazardous substances, but the EPA has not acted on these suggestions since the recommendations were made in 2002.
The EPA has also cited safety issues, including several major chemical accidents and a list of 60 workplace fatalities among RMP-facilities over the past ten years as being a major impetus for change. Another change the EPA proposes is to make companies consider safer designs and less volatile chemicals for use in their facilities.
The EPA would also require a detailed report be filed after near-misses at chemical plants. This report would require a root cause analysis, delving into underlying causes based on statistics and plant operation, not just the immediate cause and effect of isolated incidents.
These proposed changes have not sat well with those on either side of the discussion. One of the biggest complaints against this proposal comes from the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters, who feels this proposal does not go far enough in protecting workers and communities. It states that 87% of plants currently in RMP would not be subject to many of the proposed changes as they would fall below the thresholds on covered chemicals triggering these regulations.
Conversely, many in the chemical industry and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in particular have leveled counter-criticism in response. These groups contend that third party audits would violate their fifth amendment rights by putting the power of enforcement authority in the hands of the third party company.
The chemical manufacturing industry had workplace fatality rates of 3.1 per 100,000 employees in 2015 while government agencies comparatively had workplace fatality rates of 2.2 in the same metric. The monetary losses from accidents at RMP facilities total 2 billion in property damage, but this accounts for less than 1% of surplus revenue and it is unknown how much the EPA’s changes would affect this margin.
OSHA does not currently have a plan of action if these changes were to go into effect. However, they hope to finalize the proposed changes by December 2016, although this is unlikely. With the coming election, it would appear most likely that the changes won’t be put into effect until a new president takes office next January, and possibly even after then.