Are You Following OSHA’s PSM Best Practices?

An Ohio ethanol production facility faces $149,800 in penalties after Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors found multiple violations, including numerous violations of process safety management (PSM) standards. A chemical manufacturer and distributor in Kansas City was fined $80,000 for PSM violations. These are just two recent cases of large OSHA fines for missteps related to the agency’s PSM requirements for keeping workers safe from chemical hazards. Today and tomorrow we will review the PSM recommended and generally accepted good engineering practices (RAGAGEP) letter of interpretation, which was recently updated by OSHA.

According to OSHA, in the PSM standard, RAGAGEP apply to process equipment design and maintenance; inspection and test practices; and inspection and test frequencies.

Note. When assessing compliance with RAGAGEP, OSHA considers the words “shall” and “must” to signal mandatory requirements. “Should” signals nonmandatory recommendations.

Examples of RAGAGEP include:

  • Widely adopted codes, such as National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101Life Safety and NFPA 70 National Electric codes;
  • Consensus documents, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineer’s B31.3Process Piping Code;
  • Nonconsensus documents, such as Chlorine Institute’s pamphlets on chlorine and sodium hypochlorite (bleach) safety;
  • Applicable manufacturer’s recommendations; and
  • Internal standards (more on this tomorrow).

When the Inspector Comes Knocking

As an employer, you select the RAGAGEP for your equipment and procedures. OSHA has advised inspectors of a number of potential enforcement issues that you should also keep in mind if you are inspected. These issues include:

  • You may make a choice when multiple RAGAGEP apply to a specific process.
  • You do not need to comply with RAGAGEP that is not applicable to your specific situations.
  • If you apply RAGAGEP outside their intended area of application, you may be cited.
  • If the selected RAGAGEP does not control all the hazards in a covered process, you must adopt other RAGAGEP to address the remaining hazards.
  • You must be careful when selectively applying individual provisions from multiple RAGAGEP that address similar hazards. OSHA will evaluate them for appropriateness on a case-by-case basis.
  • Although you must abide by RAGAGEP concerning the frequency of inspections and tests, inspections and tests must also be performed more frequently if prior operating experience deems it necessary. Inspectors will review your documents, such as written inspection and test procedures, to determine if this is the case.
  • Equipment that does not comply with RAGAGEP must not be documented as compliant. You can be cited for both failure to document compliance and deviations from RAGAGEP compliance.
  • Equipment covered under the PSM mechanical integrity provisions that is outside acceptable limits is considered deficient, and the deficiencies must be corrected before further use or you must assure safe operation in the interim. If you are operating the equipment using interim safeguards, you must develop and implement a management of change procedure.
  • When using equipment that was designed or constructed before applicable RAGAGEP or under older codes no longer in use, you must determine and document that the equipment is designed, inspected, tested, and operated in a safe manner.
  • If the updated RAGAGEP explicitly states that new requirements are retroactive, you are expected to conform with those provisions. Even if the updated RAGAGEP is not explicitly retroactive, you should address any applicable issues identified in the updated RAGAGEP.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we will review OSHA’s guidance for using internal standards as RAGAGEP.


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