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PT Notes

Chemical Safety Board Recommendations on Using the Safety Case Regime in the US

PT Notes is a series of topical technical notes provided periodically by Primatech for your benefit. Please feel free to provide feedback.

On December 16, 2013, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a draft of the second of three reports on the pipe rupture and fire incident that occurred in the crude unit at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California in August, 2012. The report proposes an overhaul of the refinery industry regulatory system in California and urges adoption of the safety case regime to prevent major chemical accidents in California. The CSB believes California could serve as a model for the nation by adopting the safety case regime.

The CSB calls on California to replace what is described in the report as the current patchwork of largely reactive and activity-based regulations with a more rigorous, performance-based regulatory regime similar to those successfully adopted overseas, such as in the United Kingdom (UK), known as the safety case regime. The CSB believes that refinery safety rules need to focus on driving down risk to the lowest practicable level, rather than completing required paperwork.

The safety case regime, which originated in Europe, requires high hazard facilities to demonstrate, in writing, to the satisfaction of competent regulators, that they are able to operate safely, in conformance with the latest safety standards, and at the lowest practicable risk levels. Major hazards must be controlled and risks reduced to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP). The report notes that the safety case regime represents a fundamental change by shifting the responsibility for continuous reductions in major accident risks from regulators to companies. Under a safety case approach, demonstrating control of major hazards is a pre-condition for a refinery to operate.

The report notes that effective implementation of the safety case regime requires strong workforce involvement, proactive inspections, and enforcement by well-resourced regulators, as well as incorporation of requirements for best practice performance standards. The report also notes that the safety case regime requires highly qualified regulators, whose technical abilities and experience match those of the technical staff at refineries, and it provides regulators with the authority to accept or reject the safety case report to ensure that the employer has demonstrated that effective safeguards are in place.

Don Holmstrom, Director of the CSB's Western Regional Office, which is conducting the Chevron investigation, said, "OSHA's Process Safety Management [PSM] standard, the EPA's Risk Management Program, and California's system do not work consistently to prevent industrial process accidents. What is lacking, and what the safety case regime requires, is an adaptable, rigorously inspected, goal-setting approach, aimed at continuously reducing risks to 'as low as reasonably practicable' – known in the industry as ALARP." The current Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) process safety management (PSM) standard does not require refineries to reduce their risks to a specific level, and companies are not required to submit their safety programs to regulators for review.

The report notes that promulgation of new standards by OSHA requires about seven years, and few changes have been made to the OSHA PSM standard in the more than two decades since it was promulgated. The report contrasts this ineffectual system for updating federal safety regulations through rule making with the greater adaptability of the safety case regime. Under a safety case system, changing safety standards, new technologies, and findings from accident investigations are required to be incorporated by facilities. The report states, "In the last decade, the CSB has made a number of process-safety related recommendations to OSHA and the EPA in its investigation reports and studies. However, none of these important regulatory recommendations have been implemented, and there have been no substantive changes made to the PSM or Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations to improve the prevention of major accidents."

The report notes that, in contrast, regulators in countries such as the UK are able to more quickly implement appropriate safety improvements. Available studies summarized in the report illustrate that the safety case continues to be effective. For example, data from Norway and the UK show a reduction in hydrocarbon releases offshore under the safety case regime. The draft report concludes that, "Independent studies of the safety case in the UK have identified improvements to safety performance from the safety case regulatory regime and support of the safety case by major oil companies."

Subject to a vote by the board, the draft report will recommend that California "Develop and implement a step-by-step plan to establish a more rigorous safety management regulatory framework for petroleum refineries in the state of California based on the principles of the safety case framework in use in regulatory regimes such as those in the UK, Australia, and Norway."

Click here to download the draft report.

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