Merry Christmas from the EPA!

Yesterday the EPA released their long-awaited changes to the RMP rule which will take effect in roughly 60 days. (Don’t worry too much – the earliest actual compliance date for the new requirements is an additional year away and many of them are four years away.)

While the rule isn’t *official* until it’s published in the Federal Register, they have provided the prepublication version with commentary on their website. The document itself is 372 pages long which is impressive considering the original rule is 17 pages.

Go over to RCE Chill and read the full post for more info including a 55 page summary that lists:

  • What the new text says.
  • What the new text means.
  • What you must do (and when you must do it!) to become compliant.

UPDATE: Updated links to Federal Register posting of the rule.

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Pencil-Whipping can Kill

What is it? Pencil-whipping is when you complete a form, record, or document without having performed the implied work or without supporting data or evidence.

Here are some common examples in NH3 refrigeration:

  • Completing “word orders” without conducting the work
  • “Signing off” on SOP reviews or PHA revalidations without actually reviewing or revalidating the documents.
  • Certifying training – or signing training attendance forms – without the training actually occurring.

Why take it seriously? There are several reasons, but here are some obvious ones:

  • You can be prosecuted for false statements resulting in fines and/or jail time.
  • There is significant legal liability if the action leads to an incident.
  • You can be fired for false statements
  • There can be significant safety repercussions to documenting work that wasn’t done.

I want to briefly focus on the last one – what can happen when you document that work was done when it actually wasn’t. If you are being assigned a task, we have to assume that the performance of that task is important to the system as a whole.

Imagine your job was to inspect some equipment that was prone to long-term wear – equipment that was relied upon for normal function. Now imagine that you didn’t conduct those inspections leading the users of that equipment to believe it was in proper working order. They are relying for their safety on YOUR lie!

Here’s what that can lead to:

capture1And here’s what can happen when people investigate the incident:

Thursday morning, the General Manager and CEO of the Board Safety Commission released a statement regarding the firings: “…I want the Board, our employees and our customers to know that this review revealed a disturbing level of indifference, lack of accountability, and flagrant misconduct in a portion of Metro’s track department which is completely intolerable. Further, it is reprehensible that any supervisor or mid-level manager would tolerate or encourage this behavior, or seek to retaliate against those who objected. It is also entirely unacceptable to me that any employee went along with this activity, rather than exercise a safety challenge, or any of the multiple avenues available to protect themselves, their coworkers, and the riding public.

Since the derailment occurred, we have either taken action or are in the process of taking disciplinary actions involving 28 individuals. This represents nearly half of the track inspection department and includes BOTH management and frontline track employees.

Six employees have been terminated, including 4 track inspectors and 2 supervisors

Six more track inspectors are pending termination or unpaid suspension; and 10 more are pending possible discipline pending the outcome of the administrative process

Another supervisor termination is underway; and two more supervisors are pending the outcome of the administrative process

One Superintendent was demoted to Supervisor

One Assistant General Superintendent was demoted to Superintendent

One assistant superintendent separated from Metro before the review concluded

In closing: Pencil-Whipping is immoral, illegal and just plain wrong. Don’t do it.


p.s. If you want to see how some instances of pencil-whipping are caused by overload, check out this video from Seth Wehner.

Posted in Compliance, Culture, General Information, Incidents, Inspections, Mechanical Integrity, Operator Training, System Optimization | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Militarized Incompetence or Unintentional Sabotage


In 1944, near the end of WW2, the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner to the CIA) released a field guide called the “Simple Sabotage Field Manual.” The purpose of the suggestions in the manual was “to present suggestions for inciting and executing (sabotage)” for the citizen saboteur to “undermine organizations from within.”

I’d like to focus on three suggestions provided in the manual that I’ve routinely seen implemented in facilities across the nation.

Think about that for a second – these are suggestions on how to undermine an organization from a SPY AGENCY that employees are implementing TODAY in facilities – often, without intent or an understanding of how their behaviors are affecting the organization.

#1 – Don’t train the new technician or Share Information

oss2In an era where employees no longer feel any real loyalty from their employer, it’s not surprising that this is a problem. After all, if you train the new technician, what’s to stop them from taking your job? Now, I could explain all the ways that a trained technician would help your process (and you) be safer and more effective, but I’m going to assume you’ve already heard this before and it wasn’t enough to convince you. Instead, I’m going to appeal to something else: If nobody else can do your job, then you cannot be promoted.

#2 – Find reasons to fail


In dozens of compliance audits around the country I’ve witnessed horrible housekeeping and/or a lack of basic maintenance. When questioned, the maintenance employees usually give some version of:

  • We’re short-staffed and they won’t approve more hours/employees
  • Various capital projects are still waiting approval
  • Scheduling contractors to address some other issue is proving difficult

Note that none of these things are really reasons why you can’t pick trash up off the machine room floor (or not place it there in the first place.) What they are is an attempt to redirect your attention somewhere else – specifically to someone else.

Look, I understand. I’ve worked inside large (and small) bureaucracies before and the frustration is real. It’s unfortunately very easy to let someone else’s failures demotivate you. Don’t let someone’s inability to do their job stop you from doing your job. You can take time to complain about everyone else’s failures as soon as you’ve made sure all your stuff is taken care of.

#3 – Sabotage Paperwork oss4

Anyone with a PSM/RM Program has seen this issue. Common examples include:

  • An MOC filled out with a “Technical Basis for Change” that sounds more like an explanation given to a two-year-old than an engineering rationale. “We moved the air unit.” Ok. Why did you move it? Where did you move it to? Where did you move it from? How do we know the new area is acceptable? Etc.
  • An incident investigation that makes you think the author was being charged by the letter. “Leak in Au1 coil. Fixed.” Where was the leak? What was the extent of the leak? What were the repercussions of the leak? What happened during the investigation of / response to the leak? How was it fixed and by whom? What lead to the leak? What are we doing to stop this from happening again? Etc.

If you view MOCs and Incident Investigations as “filling out the paperwork” rather than documenting your work, you’ll routinely get poor results.

These are just three examples of employee actions that are disturbingly similar to suggestions from a SPY AGENCY on how to intentionally undermine an organization. I’m not suggesting that your employees are undercover agents from your competitors, but if they are exhibiting these behaviors, and you aren’t addressing them, what is the practical difference between militarized incompetence  or unintentional sabotage to your organization?

Posted in Culture, Incidents, Oddities, Training | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

APR’s aren’t Magic

When I see people writing “Have a Full-Face APR (Air Purifying Respirator) nearby, within arm’s reach” in their Line/Equipment Opening (aka Line Break) procedures, my blood-pressure shoots through the roof. Yes, I know I am a rather excitable guy by nature, but there is a legitimate reason for my anger here. 

This incident narrative is why: 

It is believed the oil drain valve was initially clogged as the employee opened it a full three turns before any ammonia came out. When liquid exited the valve and struck the employee he fell face first on concrete in hallway.   “Convulsions” were observed by other employees and the operator was unable to self-rescue due to lung spasms. The other employees had no access to PPE and could not assist the victim. 

Would a Full-Face APR within “arm’s reach” have been useful to that employee AFTER he was struck in the face with liquid ammonia? 


With NO protection, that operator was essentially doomed the second the NH3 left the pipe and struck him.

PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment, not Potentially Protective Equipment.

aprnotmagicPPE isn’t some sort of magic relic that provides protection while you are within a certain radius of its location. It works when – and ONLY when – you use it properly. This same foolish thinking that allows people to require APR’s “nearby” could be applied to seat-belts with about the same effectiveness: “Well, no he wasn’t wearing the seat-belt during the accident. Funny thing: the darned seat-belt was right there next to him and he still went out the window when the car hit the tree.”

Now, imagine instead that the operator in that incident narrative was wearing a Full-Face APR. While Full-Face APR’s aren’t designed for liquid exposure, would he have survived if he were wearing one? Almost certainly, YES. Certainly his odds would have improved astronomically. He may well have suffered severe burns, but it is very likely that the Full-Face APR would have afforded him enough protection so that he would have been able to evacuate himself from the area and seek a safety shower to minimize the damage to his skin.

Please, THINK about your policies and REQUIRE that Full-Face APR’s are worn during ALL Line & Equipment openings.

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We’re all in this together


It was great to meet so many friends and colleagues in Las Vegas last week for RETA’s annual conference. While all business is about personal relationships, most people recognize that the Ammonia Refrigeration industry is a uniquely tight-knit group. I’ve always been strong supporters of RETA because their focus is on the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians – the actual ground troops that do the work!

The comradery of the process operators in our industry is second to none and it’s always good to get the opportunity to assemble in one place for a few days to discuss common issues. A common theme this year in our conversations was one that has been very prevalent for the last few years, but only seems to be getting worse: the operator shortage.

For nearly a decade now there just aren’t enough skilled operators to go around and that has only highlighted the need for quality training for the new people we’re drafting into the field. There have been third-party solutions for overall refrigeration training for years and these programs have value, but they must serve to augment quality in-house training, not replace it.

What a quality in-house training program looks like is a very complicated subject and one we may write about at some point, but what I’d like to talk about today is something related to that topic: the power imbalance between the new and the seasoned operator.

While driving to Arkansas for a client visit earlier this week I was listening to a book on tape: Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success.” In a chapter on Airplane crashes he spoke of a very interesting statistic: The plain is more likely to crash when the Captain is flying than when the First Officer is flying. Isn’t that odd? Wouldn’t you expect the more seasoned, more experienced Captain to be safer than the comparatively less seasoned and experienced First Officer?

He also offered what many psychologists believe is the reason for this: The Captain is very likely to point out a mistake made by the First Officer because they are in an elevated position compared to them. It is much more difficult – psychologically speaking – for the junior officer to challenge the Captain! With so many experienced operators training new ones, couldn’t we also be affected by this sort of power imbalance?

So, here are a couple thoughts for those of you in the field to help us all avoid the problems caused by power imbalance:

If you are the more seasoned, experienced technician:

  • Are you making yourself approachable?
  • Are you actively soliciting input from your colleagues on your plan of action?
  • Are you rewarding questions about your plan of action or punishing them?
  • Are you considering questions about your plan as teaching moments rather than challenges to your “authority?”

If you are the less seasoned, experience technician:

  • Are you speaking up if you have concerns or questions about the plan of action?
  • Are you insisting that you are heard rather than just making sure you have said your piece?
  • Are you posing your concerns or questions as opportunities for your colleagues to train you?

It’s the last bullet of each of those that I want to focus on briefly. Whether you are the questioner or the person answering the question, you need to look at these moments of confusion as teaching moments. Saying “That’s stupid” or “I wouldn’t do it that way,” is perceived as a challenge and isn’t likely to get a constructive response. Saying “Help me understand why you are doing it this way,” “Is there a reason not to do it this other way,” or “Let me explain why I’m doing it this way” starts a dialogue between people that can bring you both together.

By asking yourself the above questions, the experienced technician will soon come to understand that “teaching” someone often helps them clarify their thoughts and makes them understand their own actions better. The inexperienced technician will find that training isn’t just something that happens in a classroom – their day is full of learning opportunities.

Remember, we’re all in this together.

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When does a Car-Seal program make sense for Industrial Ammonia Refrigeration systems?

First off: What is a Car-Seal program and what does it do? 

A Car-Seal program is designed, implemented and managed to ensure that safety-critical valves within the covered process are maintained in their safety-critical position / setting during normal system operation. If the position / setting of a safety-critical valve is to be changed, it provides a procedure that functions as an administrative control to make this change safely.

Car-Sealing a valve OPEN or CLOSED is used ONLY if opening or closing that valve during normal operation could result in a Severe Safety Incident. Car-Sealed valves are usually designated on the P&ID’s as Car-Sealed OPEN (CSO) and Car-Sealed CLOSED (CSC), and are physically identified as Car-Sealed in its designated position / setting.

In order to more readily identify the location of the intended Car-Seals in the field, as well as the NORMALLY SAFE valve position / setting, the tags will be secured to the valve using COLOR CODED PLASTIC TIE STRAPS.


To put it bluntly: Car-Seals are placed on valves where REALLY bad things can happen if you move them from their normal (Safety Critical) position without taking precautions!

Where are they used in Industrial Ammonia Refrigeration Systems? 

You should already have at least two Administrative Controls (safeguards) meant to minimize the hazard of opening and closing the wrong valves: Written SOPs and Trained Operators. The Car-Seal program is meant to add a third layer of protection on top of those two when changing the position of the valve could reasonably result in a Severe Safety Incident.

Severe Safety Incidentshall mean any incident which could result in any one or more of the following results:

  • An OSHA Recordable accident, fatality, one or more employees/contractors hospitalized
  • Any fire requiring the use of more than one (1) portable extinguisher or one wheeled unit to completely extinguish
  • Any environmental incident involving a regulated material which violates any of our permits or requires disposal of a hazardous waste
  • Any incident which activates or disables a pressure safety device.
  • Any event which had the clear potential for sudden loss of human life, either within the plant or beyond the fence line, which would result directly from a chemical release, fire or other safety-related incident
  • Any event which required an offsite notification of any type agency (fire, LEPC, EPA, OSHA, County Officials, City Officials)
  • Any event in which the site alarm system activates or is disabled (excluding false alarms and tests)

While the decision as to which situations could reasonably result in a Severe Safety Incident are best left to the PHA team, the following are common situations where they have been used:

  • On the CD Isolation Valve of a Condenser Coil
  • On the Inlet or Outlet Isolation Valve of a Thermosyphon Heat Exchanger
  • On any liquid cooling Heat Exchanger without a relief device*
  • Where a shutoff valve is placed before or after a relief device*
  • At Isolation Valves for dead-end or Future Expansion legs.

* A relief device in this case means a device to relieve excess pressure. While relief valves are common solutions, other examples include checkvalves, pressure-relieving regulators, EPCS solenoids, etc.

Posted in Compliance, General Information, Good Engineering Practices, NEP | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

DHS CFATS Top-Screen Update

It looks like the DHS has finally got around to updating their Top-Screen program. Below is the email from them:


Subject: Enhanced CFATS Risk-Assessment Methodology and Upcoming Requirement to Submit CFATS Top-Screen
From: “cfatsupdate” <>
Date: Tue, August 30, 2016

You are receiving this email because you are listed as an Authorizer or Submitter for a facility that has previously submitted a Top-Screen under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program.

For the past 9 years, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program has provided a regulatory framework through which America’s highest-risk chemical facilities have worked together with the Department of Homeland Security as they have put into place security measures designed to harden their facilities and chemical holdings against terrorist attack and exploitation. The CFATS risk-assessment methodology has been a foundational element of this effort. More than 30,000 facilities such as yours-which have held threshold quantities/concentrations of CFATS Chemicals of Interest-have met their obligation to submit a Top-Screen, kicking off the risk-assessment process. Although your facility may have previously been determined not to be “high-risk,” and, therefore, may not have been required to develop a Site Security Plan addressing the CFATS risk-based performance standards, it is important that our chemical security community continue to work together to ensure that we are assessing risk as accurately as possible–with a full focus on current information related to terrorist threat, potential vulnerabilities, and the potential consequences of a terrorist attack. With this in mind, and in partnership with industry stakeholders and experts from other government agencies and academia, we at DHS have been working hard to update and enhance the CFATS risk-assessment methodology.

In the coming months, we will be reaching out directly to your facility and other facilities believed to maintain threshold quantities of CFATS Chemicals of Interest, asking that you again comply with CFATS by submitting a new Top-Screen. I’m pleased to report that, along with the enhanced risk-assessment methodology, we have built a new online tool for submission of Top-Screens. This “Chemical Security Assessment Tool 2.0” (or “CSAT 2.0”) will provide a significantly more streamlined and user-friendly experience for facilities.

If you’d like to learn more about CFATS, please visit

What does this mean for me and my facility?
On July 20, 2016, DHS suspended the requirement for the submission of Top-Screens and Security Vulnerability Assessments (SVA) in preparation for the rollout of CSAT 2.0 and to prevent duplicate submissions.

After the transition to CSAT 2.0 and the improved risk tiering methodology in October 2016, the Department will begin to individually notify chemical facilities of interest (to include facilities previously determined not to be high-risk) to resubmit a Top-Screen using the revised CSAT Top-Screen application. We will send a specific written notification to these facilities. These letters will be issued through CSAT 2.0 to each facility’s designated CFATS Authorizer and Submitter in a phased manner over the course of several months.

What will CSAT 2.0 do and when will this happen?
CSAT 2.0 will collect the data necessary to process facilities through the improved risk tiering methodology and improve the integration between the CSAT SVA and Site Security Plan (SSP) surveys. These changes will streamline the compliance process and significantly reduce the administrative burden associated with completing these surveys. CSAT 2.0 will include a revised CSAT portal user interface and the streamlined Top-Screen, SVA, and SSP surveys.

Next steps:

* The Department will replace the current CSAT surveys with the revised surveys this fall.

* On October 1, 2016, DHS will reinstate the Top-Screen and SVA submission requirements.

* We will individually notify facilities in a phased manner to resubmit their Top-Screens using the new tool.

How should I prepare?
Be sure you are able to log into your CSAT account and ensure the most up-to-date contact information is available for the submitter and authorizer. Log in to and select the “Update My Information” link to confirm that all information is correct and up-to-date. If you are unable to access your account, please contact the CFATS Help Desk, (866) 323-2957.

Training on CSAT 2.0

* REGISTER NOW! The Department will be hosting several webinars and presentations at several cities around the country to demonstrate the streamlined tool! The first of these sessions will be a two-part webinar held the first week of September:

CFATS Quarterly

* The Department has made significant progress on implementing the program since 2007, to include implementing the Personnel Surety Program. To learn more on current CFATS programmatic activities, view the attached latest CFATS Quarterly, a short newsletter we send regularly to our CFATS-regulated facilities (linked here: 2016-08 ISCD Quarterly Message_508 (crunched))

Additional Resources

* Contact the CFATS Help Desk, (866) 323-2957, a CFATS Compliance Case Manager, or your local Chemical Security Inspector with any questions by emailing<>.

* Visit the DHS website at or read the implementation notice published in the Federal Register for more information.
The Department is committed to sharing information, answering questions, and providing assistance to facilities. Please feel free to reach out to us regarding your questions by emailing

Thank you for your continuing commitment to fostering the security of America’s chemical infrastructure!

Posted in DHS, General Information | Tagged | Leave a comment

Appeals Court upholds Contractor PSM Citations

A maintenance contractor that provides skilled labor to perform skilled labor, electrical and mechanical work was cited by OSHA for violations of the PSM standard after their employee was injured by a chemical release.

OSHA threw the book at them and through conference and litigation many of the citations were dropped. Two stuck around:

Item 3 alleged a serious violation of § 1910.119(j)(2) for failing to establish and implement written procedures for maintaining the ongoing integrity of process equipment;
Item 4 alleged a serious violation of § 1910.119(j)(3) for failing to train (the employee) in an overview of the process and its hazards and in the procedures applicable to his tasks;

The contractor asserted that the site owner was the operator of the plant, and therefore was the appropriate “employer” responsible for fulfilling the requirements set forth in the cited PSM standards and that the cited standards did not apply to the contractor.

The Appeals Court upheld the previous ALJ ruling:

ALJ expressly rejected Jacobs’s argument that §§ 1910.119(j)(2) and (3) do not apply to contract employers, finding that, under OSHA’ s multi-employer policy, the cited standard applied “to the cited conditions, not to the cited employer.” Because (the Contractor) was the “exposing employer,” it was responsible “for all violative conditions to which its employee had access.”

Two things to keep in mind here:

  • You have to deal with a contract employee the same as you would deal with any similarly situated employee.
  • Process Operator is a function, not a title. Whether it’s the janitor, a line cook, a salesman or a skilled contract employee – if they are operating the process, they are a Process Operator and all the PSM requirements will apply to them.

OSHA would have had a much easier time proving violations of the PSM standard under the Contractors element:

1910.119(h)(3)(i) – The contract employer shall assure that each contract employee is trained in the work practices necessary to safely perform his/her job.
1910.119(h)(3)(ii) – The contract employer shall assure that each contract employee is instructed in the known potential fire, explosion, or toxic release hazards related to his/her job and the process, and the applicable provisions of the emergency action plan.

My thinking is that they were trying to prove a larger point with these citations placed under the Mechanical Integrity element.

(link to ruling itself)

Posted in Compliance, Contractors, Inspections, Mechanical Integrity, Operator Training, OSHA | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

OSHA increases fine amounts by 78%!

In November 2015, Congress enacted legislation requiring federal agencies to adjust their civil penalties to account for inflation. The Department of Labor is adjusting penalties for its agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA’s maximum penalties, which were last adjusted in 1990, will increase by 78%. Going forward, the agency will continue to adjust its penalties for inflation each year based on the Consumer Price Index.

The new penalties will take effect after August 1, 2016. Any citations issued by OSHA after that date will be subject to the new penalties if the related violations occurred after November 2, 2015. Serious violation penalties move to a maximum amount of $12,471 per violation and Willful violation penalties move to a maximum amount of $124,709 per violation!

Don’t get caught by surprise – Consider a Compliance Audit or Gap Analysis of your program today!

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IRC releases their Mechanical Integrity Guidebook

I’ve had my copy for a few months and think the IRC has done a fantastic job with this book.


Here is the press-release:

The IRC is pleased to announce the immediate availability of a new guidebook titled:

Principles and Practices of Mechanical Integrity Guidebook for Industrial Refrigeration Systems.

This guidebook serves as a comprehensive resource for those involved in designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining closed-circuit industrial ammonia refrigeration systems.

For more information on the IRC’s MI Guidebook, browse here.

To order your copy of the MI Guidebook, click here.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact the IRC at

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