In its supporting documents explaining the rationale behind proposed changes to its Risk Management Program rule under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency highlights how the changes seek to better prepare facilities in the event of an accidental release. Although statistically the U.S. chemical industry is safe, catastrophic events such as explosions at the West, Texas, fertilizer plant and the BP Texas City refinery remind us there is room to improve. Had the anhydrous ammonia vessels at the West Fertilizer Co. catastrophically failed as a result of the conditions created by the original explosions, the tragic event could have been much worse.

Both EPA and the Chemical Safety Board have cited the failure to conduct a rigorous audit as a key contributing factor to facilities that had accidents. It stands to reason: If you do not know what is wrong, how can you take steps to fix the unsound? There are occasions, however, when a facility may have taken all necessary precautions. Insufficiencies by the auditor —whether performance based or due to inadequate independence from the facility under audit — contribute to the failure to identify hazards.

To address these limitations, EPA proposes to require independent, third-party audits for Program 2 or Program 3 facilities with a RMP-reportable accident. At the same time, EPA also seeks comment on alternatives, including:

  • Whether to eliminate or further limit applicability of the third-party audit provision.
  • Whether to specify other criteria that could require RMP facilities to perform third-party compliance audits.
  • Whether to require owners/operators of RMP facilities be responsible for determining and documenting the competency, independence and impartiality of their auditors.
  • Whether to require additional accreditation criteria for auditors and how to best establish any such criteria within the context of the RMP rule.
  • Whether to eliminate the independence requirement while retaining existing requirement for compliance audits.
  • Whether to change the accreditation requirements for third-party auditors.

 

Visit http://1.usa.gov/1P8fQOY to review EPA’s full FAQ on the proposed changes. Comments are due on May 13.