OSHA has announced a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) to focus enforcement resources on process safety management (PSM) hazards in chemical facilities across the country. Chemical facilities with PSM-covered processes should review their programs now to ensure full compliance with OSHA standards.

The NEP, effective July 27, 2009, is billed as a “new approach for inspecting PSM covered facilities” and “allows for a greater number of inspections by better allocation of OSHA’s resources.” Chemical facilities in the Northeast (OSHA’s Region 1), the Plains States (OSHA’s Region VII), and the Northwest and Alaska (OSHA’s Region X) will be subject to programmed inspections under the NEP. The NEP will apply to unprogrammed inspections for PSM-covered processes OSHA-wide.

In its instructions to compliance officers regarding the scope of inspections, OSHA emphasizes implementation of the PSM standard over documentation:

Based on past inspection history at refineries and large chemical plants, OSHA has found that employers may have an extensive written process safety management program, but insufficient program implementation. Therefore, CSHOs should verify the implementation of PSM elements to ensure that the employer’s actual program is consistent with their written program.

Compliance officers also are instructed at the start of inspections to request numerous documents from employers, some of which are not required to be kept under the standard (e.g., a list of all PSM-covered process/units in the complex, a summary description of the facility’s PSM program, safe upper and lower operating limits for certain covered units). According to OSHA, however, they represent “documents typically compiled by employers with PSM-covered processes at their facilities.” Furthermore, OSHA will examine under the NEP all contractors – including construction contractors – working on or adjacent to PSM-covered units being inspected.

This is just the first of several key NEPs OSHA will be releasing. OSHA’s Recordkeeping NEP should be released within days, and other NEPs on Food Flavorings, Oil and Gas Well Drilling, Primary Metals, and Hexavalent Chromium are in the works.

We will continue to keep you apprised of all of OSHA’s enforcement initiatives.