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Incidents

Keep the CSB! Get OSHA and the EPA out of incident investigations.

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) was established in 1998 to investigate industrial accidents, similar to the National Transportation Safety Board that investigates accidents involving airplanes and other vehicles. The annual budget of the CSB is $12MM and that supports about 45 full-time employees. It is an independent board that does not report to any other office/agency. The five-person Board is appointed by the President and approved by the Senate, so there is some political influence involved, however there are technical requirements for being on the Board so the positions are not able to be easily used for political favors.

When there is a major hazardous chemical accident, the CSB arrives on-scene to review what happened, what the causes were, how it was responded to both by the company and emergency responders, and if/how regulations were enforced.  They do a thorough investigation including looking at physical evidence and conducting numerous interviews. They are at the site as long as it takes to do a complete investigation, whereas many times regulating bodies or the insurance companies will be there initially and leave quickly, possibly without completely understanding everything that led up to the accident.

The CSB does not issue fines. They issue a report and recommendations for the plant, regulatory agencies, industry organizations, and labor groups to avoid the same issues in the future. Past investigations have led to changes in things like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for Material Data Sheets regarding combustible dust hazards, or the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) Acetylene Standard to remove outdated references and get it in line with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These changes have led to safer plants, workers, and communities.

The chemical industry wants to operate safely because it is good for the bottom line. Operating safely means less down-time and fewer accidents, involving both personnel and processes. It saves money from reduced insurance policies, reduced personnel time away from work, and reduced material costs for replacement of damaged property. It increases revenue by increasing through-put and allowing for reduced emergency coverage.

This small organization is able to make a big impact on industry and society, so why would we get rid of it? The President’s proposed budget is a wish list and it is not final, however it is undermining the strong support base of workers he has built. Why would he want to remove an agency that causes the blue collar workers to have a safer work environment?

If the President is looking to save money in the government’s budget, there are redundancies that would be able to be taken out that would then strengthen the role of the CSB to make industry even safer and therefore increase profits for industry and reduce budget needs for the government. Instead of removing the CSB, remove the incident investigation portion from OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and allow the CSB to be responsible for all industrial accident investigations. To do this, funding to the CSB would need to increase to cover the large number of accidents that are currently not investigated by the CSB due to lack of manpower. However, if OSHA and the EPA were to eliminate their investigation portion, there would be extra money that could be put in the CSB budget and some left over to cover other initiatives in the country’s budget.

Think for a moment, if you have ever worked in an industrial facility, what is the first thing you think of or feeling you get when someone says, “OSHA is going to be here tomorrow.”? It isn’t good. Why? Because OSHA is coming on site to find something wrong. They always seem to be able to find one MOC that is incorrect, even if the other 9,999 were perfect. They are generally not coming to help you improve. They are arriving because there has been a complaint or because they have audit quotas to meet. The individual auditors may say they are there to help, however it seems to be common knowledge that when OSHA comes on site, you are left with fines to pay or to try to defend. Fines are one tool OSHA and the EPA have to ensure facilities are following the regulations and they are great deterrents to doing things incorrectly and potentially causing injury to the plant assets, personnel or the environment. The proposal is not to remove this function from OSHA and the EPA, those fines and audits need to stay in place. However, let’s remove their fines from incident investigations and allow the CSB to perform a thorough review. Removing the incident investigation from OSHA and the EPA would allow the investigations to be much more open as companies would not be trying to hide their mistakes due to fear of extreme fines.

Granted, no one wants the CSB to come on site, either, however it is already known that there is an issue if they show up. There is no reason for personnel, emergency responders, and neighbors to not cooperate. They all want to work together to make the facility safer and prevent the same or similar accidents from happening again. If you have never seen a CSB report summary and video, please go to their website, www.csb.gov and watch one. They are spectacular and explain things in a way that you do not need a PhD to understand what happened. Let’s support them in creating these great accident accounts, so we do not lose our history and the lessons we need to learn from industrial accidents. Eventually, those of us who remember BP’s Texas City explosion will be gone, but the lessons learned from it do not have to be.

Let the CSB do its thing and then review the fineable offences, keeping in mind that the company has already paid a large fine with its internal assets and community reputation. The companies do need to be held accountable; however there are better methods that benefit the community and the industry as a whole, rather than lawyers.

Just as we have previously recommended that internal audits be used to improve your site rather than condemn your people, let’s use accidents as a time to learn and allow the entire industry to improve rather than punishing a company that already has to deal with the aftermath of a large accident. If you look at the history of fines from accidents, many of them end up getting thrown out anyway. Let’s keep them out of the courts in the first place and come up with alternate means of “punishment.” This does not suggest that if individuals are found to have been the cause of accidents, they do not need to be held accountable in a court of law. That is a separate issue. This is strictly dealing with the company as a whole.

Instead of paying fines, would it be more useful if companies, including the personnel most directly involved, were to develop a training course on what happened and how it might have been prevented? Then be made to travel to a number of similar sites and deliver the material. It is so much more impactful when someone with firsthand knowledge talks about an accident, rather than someone who got the knowledge second (or third) hand.

Or make the company work with environmental organizations to develop an environmental recovery program and supply the workers to implement it to show its commitment to the community and the environment. Any environmental impacts from the accidents need to be paid for by the company that caused them. It is also necessary to keep in mind that environmental effects may not all be felt immediately, so ongoing monitoring and tracking would be necessary.

Additionally, all operations and safety policies and procedures need to be reviewed at the site to adjust for the lessons learned from the accident. This review is a great time for OSHA/EPA to get involved and help the plant to make sure all regulations are being adhered to. Accidents generally do not happen if all procedures are safe and are followed, so there are going to be areas for improvement. Egregious violations of regulations need to be corrected, and fully documented.

There are many options for alternate ways of having the companies make retribution. Let’s be creative and allow accidents to be a time of change and growth in industry, rather than a time of finger pointing and punishments.

Removing investigations from OSHA and the EPA and strengthening the CSB would allow the regulatory agencies to focus on their strengths of regulation and preventing accidents and would allow the CSB to focus on its strength of investigations and would allow everyone to learn from others’ mistakes.

Categories
Incidents

Eliminate the CSB, and move the CSB incident investigations functions to OSHA and EPA.

In the spirit of the government eliminating waste and duplication, it is necessary to increase the efficiency of agencies. Having three agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), all looking at investigations of industrial incidents is a triple redundancy.

The redundancy needs to be removed to better spend our tax dollars. The CSB does not have regulatory power and can only make “suggestions” to the industry it is investigating. It must rely on the other two agencies to make fines, change regulations, or do further analysis of the industry. This is not the most efficient process. Each regulatory agency needs to have its own investigative power to look into events that happen in the industry. The CSB has no real power to influence industry, make changes to regulations, or punish those who have intentionally violated rules, regulations, and laws and it needs to be eliminated.

There are things the CSB does well that need to be preserved. The dissolution process should keep the finer parts of the CSB such as the videos, the publicly accessible reports that are easy to read, and the reporting of all incidents occurring in United States. However, these need to be moved to within OSHA and EPA. These results are fantastic for the process safety management professionals as it gives them a place to look at events that have occurred in a language that is easy to understand. It also allows them to give the same reports to management and operations so they can also comprehend the risks.

The videos and reports are produced on a level that allows their use for safety meetings and safety instructions. These activities need to be kept and moved to agencies that have control over defining the regulations to deliver a better product to the industry. This would also help OSHA and EPA move away from being the “punishers” as they walk into the door to being an agency looking to help facilities understand the events that have occurred.

OSHA and EPA already have investigative functions that are dispatched to industrial accident sites. This redundancy with the CSB needs to be eliminated. It is not necessary to have three organizations show up to a facility. Allow OSHA and EPA to work together to determine the responding agency and let that agency take the lead on the investigation, and remove the CSB from the equation. Increase the strength of investigations at OSHA and EPA and there is no need for a third agency.

Categories
Incidents

What happened at the Arkema Plant in Crosby, TX?

As everyone in Houston has heard, the Arkema plant in Crosby has been in a bit of a bind since Hurricane Harvey hit last weekend. The plant makes an organic peroxide which is the intermediate in the Cumene process and used to make phenol and acetone from benzene and propene. Benzene and propene are used in all sorts of things including pharmaceuticals and construction material. This is a pretty useful chemical and process! 

At the Arkema plant, they had an inventory of cumene hydroperoxide which is all over the news (See the news story from KHOU). The chemical has not exploded (as of this writing) and started a fire yet, however it is inevitable. 

How did they get to this point?

Cumene hydroperoxide is a PSM covered chemical, meaning the process has to have a Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) done on it every 5 years. The PHA looks at all possible issues and helps plants develop a priority for which aspects of the process contain a large amount of risk and which ones have less risk. This one would be a high risk! So, they implemented safeguards to protect the system to mitigate the risk and reduce damage to personnel, the environment, and the plant.  They had cooling on the process and they had backup generators to power that cooling. They also utilized liquid nitrogen to keep the process cool. And they had refrigerated containers that they moved the chemical to. But it all depended on having power. 

Are you protected against risk at your facility? Contact us to review your PHAs to make sure! 

When the emergency generators were inundated with water, they no longer provided that power and they were unable to control the temperature. They had moved the chemicals into a refrigerated container and moved the containers away from the heart of the plant. Then they evacuated the plant. And the local authorities got involved and evacuated a 1.5 mile radius around the plant.

The chemicals are currently decomposing (decomposition starts at 158 deg F) and it is a self-accelerating decomposition, so once it starts, it keeps going and there isn’t much to be done to stop it. The hydroperoxide material is decomposing into gas and causing pressure in the container. That container has a Pressure Relief Valve on it (another safeguard), and those have been going off since early Thursday morning. Pressure Relief Valves are generally used as a last line of defense to prevent a tank/container from exploding. However, they can only do so much. And there is no pressure control on the refrigerated containers that the chemicals are in. Hydroperoxides are oxidizers, which means they are capable of igniting flammable and combustible material, even in oxygen-depleted environments as well as increasing the intensity of a fire by adding to the oxygen supply. At that point they also cause ignition and rapid burning of normally non-flammable materials. Eventually, the refrigerated containers will fill with vapor from the decomposed hydroperoxide and that vapor will explode and start a fire. 

At this point, fire is their friend. It would be beneficial to have the chemicals burn and accelerate 

What else could have been done?

The plant did have Independent Protection Layers (IPL) in place to mitigate this emergency. Without seeing the PHA, it is assumed that the IPLs were sufficient to protect the process. This flood was completely unprecedented and there wasn’t history to suggest a flood of this level would happen and cut off all power to the site including emergency backup generators. Other than providing cooling to the system to control the temperature, the other option would have been to provide a neutralizing chemical to react with the hydroperoxide and make it unreactive. However, it needs to be done in a very dilute environment such as a large lake-type area, not in the vessel. Of course, at that point, containment is a big issue as you would need a large surface area to spread out the chemical. A very dilute acid such as hydrochloric acid would help to neutralize it and turn it into water and salt.  

Ultimately, they had the right controls in place. This storm was something that no one was able to predict and it dumped more rain than anyone would reasonably design for. It is still a scary situation, especially for those close to the facility, however it will burn itself out hopefully without too much damage to the surrounding community or the environment.

Have you had an incident as a result of Harvey? Contact us to help with your incident investigation or to review your processes and procedures to prevent future issues!