OSH | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: March 27, 2007


Department: Government & Policy

On the heels of criticism over lax refinery inspections, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) announced it will increase the number of staff trained to conduct process safety inspections, as well as the number of inspections at U.S. refineries.

The agency says it will have trained about 280 staff members to perform process safety management inspections by August of this year, 120 more than the present number. The agency also indicated it is setting up a special program to inspect every refinery under its jurisdiction.

OSHA's announcement was in response to a report and a hearing before the House Committee on Education & Labor, where Carolyn W. Merritt, president of the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), strongly urged OSHA to increase its emphasis on process safety at chemical plants and refineries, rather than limiting its primary focus to inspections of facilities with high personal injury rates.

CSB found that OSHA conducted only nine thorough and detailed "program quality verification" (PQV) inspections in targeted industries between 1995 and 2005. None of these were in the refinery sector. Over the same period, state agencies in 26 states that operate their own workplace safety programs conducted 48 such inspections, including six at refineries, CSB said.

Several states with a high concentration of petrochemical plants—among them Louisiana, New Jersey, and Texas—rely on OSHA enforcement.

The CSB report came in response to a lengthy investigation of a BP refinery accident in Texas City, Texas, that killed 15 workers two years ago. In the 20 years before the 2005 accident, this plant faced only one detailed OSHA process safety management inspection, despite 10 worker deaths over the same period. OSHA did conduct more narrow inspections, but they lacked the thoroughness of a PQV inspection, CSB said (C&EN, March 26, page 32).

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