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Industrial Safety

Chemical Safety Board to require accident reporting

Companies will have 8 hours to file a brief report

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
February 10, 2020

Photo of smoke above an industrial facility.
Under the new regulation, specialty chemical manufacturer KMCO would have had to report an April 2, 2019, explosion and fire to the Chemical Safety Board within 8 hours. The incident was caused by an isobutylene leak. It killed one KMCO worker and seriously burned two others.

Operators of chemical companies, refineries, and other facilities that experience a significant chemical accident must report the incident to the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board within 8 hours, under a long-delayed regulation issued Feb. 5.

“The rule requires prompt reports to the CSB from owners or operators of facilities that experience an accidental release” of a regulated or extremely hazardous substance that results in death, serious injury, or substantial property damage, says CSB Interim Executive Kristen Kulinowski in a statement.

“The CSB anticipates that these reports will provide the agency with key information important to the CSB in making prompt deployment decisions,” she says. Although hundreds of accidents a year might qualify for investigation, the agency has the resources to investigate only a few.

Previously, to determine which accidents to pursue, the CSB has relied primarily on media reports and information collected by the National Response Center, a database maintained by the US Coast Guard. After the CSB released its draft reporting rule for public comment, it received feedback from several industry organizations urging the agency to continue to rely on response center information rather than require new reports.

However, the CSB found the response center data to be inadequate. It examined 1,923 incidents that occurred over a 10-year period and met its investigation criteria. CSB found the center identified only 13% of these incidents.

In all, some 43 individuals and others commented on the rule’s proposal, according to the CSB. Some urged the CSB to require companies to provide more detail in reports and to correct them as necessary. However, the CSB noted the reports are intended only to help determine the importance of the accident and whether it should merit deployment and investigation.

Several organizations also urged the CSB to make the company reports easily accessible to the public. The CSB responded that public release is restricted by other federal statutes, and consequently the company reports can only be obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. CSB investigation reports are freely available to the public.

The CSB, however, agreed with some commenters that the amount of time allowed between when an accident occurs and when the CSB must be informed was too short. The CSB increased that window from 4 to 8 hours in the final regulation.

The legislation that created the CSB in 1990 required the agency to create a reporting regulation such as the one now finalized. The board had discussed creating the regulation but never followed through to implement one. Environmental and community groups finally sued the board. In February 2019, a US District Court judge ordered the agency to finalize a rule within a year. The regulation will go into effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen the week of Feb. 10.


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