Chemical Facilities Tackle an Explosive Problem

By Megan Gates

Also, the suggested safety case regime requires industry to evolve with current best safety practices, “eliminating the need for the regulator to constantly revise and update regulations, to keep them current and relevant,” but is dependent on a “well-funded and competent regulator,” she explained.

Another task of the working group is to identify safer alternatives, sometimes called inherently safer technology (IST), for storage and production of potentially harmful chemicals. Many participants in the listening sessions expressed concerns that this would lead to more government regulation and less freedom in the market for companies to choose what practices were best for them.

Richard Gupton, senior vice president of public policy and counsel for the Agricultural Retailers Association, said his organization opposes any regulations or statutes for IST because it’s unclear who would define processes as safer. “There’s no real set definitions to decide those types of things,” he explained. “There’s risks in life…and we don’t think that the government should decide what products that facility should carry.”

However, Jim Brinkley, director of the International Association of Fire Fighters, strongly disagreed with Gupton, arguing that only by forcing the industry to adopt safer handling and storage of dangerous chemicals through regulation would it actually change. He used the example of how the federal government began requiring automobile manufacturers to put seatbelts in all vehicles in the United States in 1968, forcing them to make their product safer, which led to fewer fatalities. Brinkley said the same needs to be done to impel companies that handle, store, and produce hazardous chemicals to keep workers and neighboring communities safe by using safer methods.

Morgan echoed Brinkley’s statements and urged OSHA and the EPA to look at modernizing existing regulations to incorporate inherently safer approaches to chemical hazard management. This could be done by “substituting one material with another that is less hazardous, minimizing the amount of hazardous material being used, moderating process conditions by lowering pressures and temperatures, and designing process to be less complicated, and therefore less prone to failure,” she said.

“Some in industry have opposed mandatory IST programs because retrofits and processes can be expensive to implement,” she added. “However, the financial and human costs of chemical explosions and fires—and the costs of preparing a community for the worst case—need to be part of any decision process.”

Members of the working group were pleased with the feedback, and Stanislaus said the point of the initial listening sessions was to allow people to air their opinions and disagree with one another in an effort to improve chemical safety and security.

The working group has met all deadlines in the executive order, despite delays from the government shutdown in October 2013. It released a list of “Options for Improved Chemical Facility Safety and Security” for stakeholders to consider in January 2014 that were compiled from discussions at previous listening sessions held across the country. The working group is holding additional listening sessions to hear opinions and concerns about the list of options before making final recommendations to the White House.



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