EHS Management

Risk Management: Understanding the General Duty Clause

It’s no surprise that this can be tricky for a company—there is no specific list of substances subject to the general duty provisions. The general duty provisions apply to owners and operators of all stationary sources that store or manufacture any extremely hazardous substances. There is no single list of extremely hazardous substances. Extremely hazardous substances include the list of regulated substances found at 40 CFR 68 and extremely hazardous substances under EPCRA 302 (40 CFR 355, Appendices A and B).

The Senate report on the Clean Air Act Amendments provides criteria that may be used to determine if a substance is extremely hazardous. The report indicates that an "extremely hazardous substance" is any substance that causes death or serious injury because of its acute toxic effect or as a result of an explosion or fire, or that would cause substantial property damage by blast, fire, corrosion, or other reaction (Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Clean Air Act Amendments of 1989, Senate Report No. 228, 101st Congress, 1st Session 211 (1989)). It is up to the owner or operator to determine what chemicals at the facility are extremely hazardous substances.

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What Do You Need to Do?

While facilities that have processes that use a listed substance above the threshold limit must prepare RMPs, there are no requirements for processes that use an extremely hazardous substance below the threshold levels. At a minimum level, though, owners and operators must:

  • Identify all hazardous chemicals used or produced at the facility. This includes more than the listed chemicals.
  • Identify the hazards associated with the chemicals using appropriate hazard assessment and techniques. This could include modeling, risk assessment, or engineering calculations to determine the distance a toxic chemical can travel and still be lethal. The assessment should result in the following information:
    • The hazards associated with each extremely hazardous substance
    • The potential release scenarios
    • The consequences associated with each release scenario
  • Design and maintain a safe facility for processes that involve hazardous chemicals:
    • Follow applicable design codes, applicable standards, and industry standards.
    • Identify, research, and apply design safety codes applicable to the substance in the process.
    • Consider risks from adjacent processes.
    • Update equipment to current codes and standards.
    • Attempt to substitute less hazardous substances for extremely hazardous substances.
    • Minimize inventories of extremely hazardous substances.
    • Implement a quality control program.
    • Develop written standard operating procedures for each aspect of the process.
    • Implement and evaluate training programs for employees on the hazards of the processes and substances.
    • When changes occur, evaluate how they impact any of the identified hazards.
    • Investigate any incidents and determine if there are ways to prevent similar occurrences.
    • Perform self-audits.

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  • Take appropriate measures to prevent releases and minimize the consequences of any accidental release that may occur. Appropriate measures may include:
    • Identifying impacted populations
    • Procedures to stop further releases or to mitigate the effects of a release
    • Identifying emergency response equipment
    • Coordinating with local emergency planning and response personnel
    • Training employees to recognize abnormal situations
    • Conducting periodic exercises to ensure that the measures are adequate.

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