By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Department of Homeland Security recently published their first joint Report for the President, “Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment.” June 6, 2014.

The Report was issued after recent catastrophic chemical facility incidents in the United States, which had, in August 2013, prompted President Obama to issue Executive Order 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security. The EO was intended to enhance the safety and security at chemical facilities and reduce risks associated with hazardous chemicals to owners and operators, workers, and their neighboring communities.

The EO established a “Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group” to oversee the effort, which is tri-chaired by the EPA, DOL, and DHS, and included leadership and subject matter experts from many other federal departments and agencies. The Report, divided into five thematic areas, summarizes the Working Group’s progress, focusing on actions to date, findings and lessons learned, challenges, and priority next steps:

  1. Strengthen community planning and preparedness;
  2. Enhance federal operational coordination;
  3. Improve data management;
  4. Modernize policies and regulation; and
  5. Incorporate stakeholder feedback and develop best practices.

The Working Group’s actions taken to-date include engagement with Local Emergency Planning Committees and first responders across the country to identify and discuss potential methods to increase first responder preparedness and to share lessons learned across departments. EPA has continued to upgrade its Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO) software to provide better and more accurate information to emergency personnel and to the public. In addition the Federal Emergency Management Agency has educated state agencies on how the Homeland Security Grant Program allows risk-centric, capabilities-based planning and preparedness training for chemical incidents.

Areas where employers need to be especially watchful and responsive to this “Shared Commitment” includes the efforts aimed at “modernizing policies and regulations.” For instance the Report states:

Chemical facility workers, LEPCs, first responders, and professional associations suggested actions that could be taken by industry to increase safety and security in and around chemical facilities, including empowering workers and encouraging employee participation in all elements of process safety such as reporting programs (for near misses and process upsets), investigating accidental releases, and participating in process hazard analyses.

We had previously blogged about OSHA’s Request for Information on the agency’s process safety management standard and other related chemical standards to determine, among other things, “whether these standards can, and should, be expanded to address additional regulated substances and types of hazards.”

Implementing these “suggested actions that could be taken by industry,” by expanding the regulation of substances and types of hazards, and by “empowering workers and encouraging employee participation in all elements of process safety,” will undoubtedly complicate current employer process safety management programs, and will increase your costs of compliance. Nonetheless, employer’s should anticipate that this is the regulatory direction that the various agencies are heading.