Did you get a DHS – CFATS/CSAT Top Screen letter?

A lot of people got a letter recently from the Department of Homeland Security telling them that they have to file a CFATS Top-Screen. Unfortunately, some of you got this in error, but for those of you who actually still haven’t done this, here’s some of the text from the book we wrote for our GCAP PSM class which should get you on your way:

What is CFATS?

Section 550 of the DHS Appropriations Act of 2007 granted the Department of Homeland Security the authority to regulate chemical facilities that “present high levels of security risk.” Under this authority, in April 2007, the Department of Homeland Security promulgated the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) regulation. This regulation is referred to as 6CFR§27 or simply as CFATS.

CFATS requires facilities that possess Chemicals of Interest (COI) above a specified screening threshold quantity to complete and submit an online consequence assessment tool called the Chemical Security Assessment Tool (CSAT) Top-Screen.

COI are those chemicals that the Department has determined have the potential to create significant loss of human life or health consequences if released, stolen, diverted, or sabotaged. This Top-Screen requirement applies not only to traditional chemical facilities, such as manufacturers or distributors, but also, with a few explicit statutory exemptions, to any type of facility that possesses a COI above the threshold amount, including hospitals, universities, agricultural operations, and refineries.

If you are required to have a PSM/RMP program for Ammonia you must also file a “CSAT Top Screen” with the DHS

Essentially the DHS wants some information about your facility so they can evaluate the “security risk” to the country if it were to be a target of terrorism. Using information gathered via the CSAT Top-Screen, DHS makes an initial determination as to whether a facility presents a high level of security risk and thus must perform additional activities under CFATS. The DHS process is a bit complex but the DHS does an excellent job providing training materials on the entire process. Nearly ALL of the ammonia facilities that file a CSAT Top Screen are placed in the lowest risk category; this means they have to take no further steps under the CFATS program unless the information they filed substantially changes.

What training will be required?

The DHS has a class of information called “Chemical-terrorism Vulnerability Information” (CVI) which is protected from public disclosure or misuse; this information is sensitive but not “classified”. To access this CVI you must complete some fairly simple online training by the DHS. The entire training package takes most applicants 1-2 hours to complete; after which you will receive a certificate and be certified to handle this sensitive information that the DHS calls CVI.

The result of the CSAT Top Screen itself is CVI (Chemical terrorism Vulnerability Information) so at least the person filing the CSAT Top Screen needs to successfully complete the training.

What steps do I need to take to fulfill this DHS CFATS requirement?

1) Complete CVI training

The CVI training is available online at the DHS website. A printed version of the online training is available for off-line study. Expect this training and testing to take at least an hour.

2) Gather information for the CSAT Top Screen

The CSAT Top Screen questions are available online at the DHS website. You should ensure you have answers to all the questions before you submit the information to the DHS. This process can take quite some time; the DHS estimates 30+ hours for the average facility but in the Ammonia Refrigeration industry this usually takes less than 8 hours to complete.

3) Submit the CSAT Top Screen

Enter the answers to the CSAT Top Screen questions into the DHS website. This process should take less than an hour.

4) Evaluate CSAT Top Screen results

The DHS will evaluate the information you have submitted and notify you of any further action that is required. Most Ammonia Refrigeration systems are not rated as a security risk by the DHS and have to complete no further action. This evaluation process can take weeks or months – you will receive your results by registered mail.

5) Update the CSAT information as needed

If the information you submitted in your CSAT Top Screen changes, be sure to update it.

This entire process is outlined in greater detail on the DHS website at: http://www.dhs.gov/chemicalsecurity

All the training, manuals and forms required for the process are also on the DHS website. In particular you’ll want to download and read at least the following:

  • Chemical-Terrorism Vulnerability Information Authorized User Training
  • Chemical-Terrorism Vulnerability Information Procedures
  • CSAT Top-Screen Survey Application User Guide
  • CSAT Top-Screen Survey Questions

Additionally, the DHS offers a toll-free help line to guide you through the CSAT process:

The CSAT Help Desk can be reached at 866-323-2957 (toll free) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday.

Again, the CSAT Top Screen is required if we have a “Chemical of Interest” in a “threshold quantity”; for Ammonia Refrigeration this quantity is 10,000 pounds.

Although it is very rare, violation of CFATS (failing to file) can result in fines of up to $25,000 per day. At their discretion the DHS can even force your facility to close until you have met the filing requirements!

Posted in Community Involvement, Compliance, DHS | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What does OSHA think is the biggest concern in ammonia refrigeration components?

I read a disturbing amount of OSHA documents through FOIA requests for research. About 99% of the stuff I read is pretty useless or already known to me from previous reading, but occasionally you come across something that wasn’t redacted that gives you some real insight into the way OSHA thinks. Usually this comes in the form of a NEP question (from their “secret” list) but occasionally it comes from the CSHO (Compliance, Safety and Health Officer) doing the inspection. Below are some pictures from an actual fine – nothing new and exciting in the pictures or fine, really – it’s typical of a 1910.119(j)(5) citation concerning mechanical integrity defects.

What’s interesting in this case is the comment that was made in the 1B:

OSHA course #3430, Advanced Process Safety Management in the Chemical Industries, Spiral Binder training manual, Tab 3, page 28 includes a quote that states “the loss of mechanical integrity due to external corrosion is the single biggest concern in industrial ammonia refrigeration components”.

I don’t know if that’s true or not; I suspect that MI is neck-and-neck with unintended / incorrect operations. What’s important is that OSHA is telling their people it’s true. Now you know!

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

Interesting Times

A wise man once said that it was a curse if someone said to you: “May you live in interesting times.”


- – - – - – -


By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

…Within 45 days of the date of this order, the Working Group shall deploy a pilot program, involving the EPA, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and any other appropriate agency, to validate best practices and to test innovative methods for Federal interagency collaboration regarding chemical facility safety and security…

…Within 270 days of the date of this order, the Working Group shall create comprehensive and integrated standard operating procedures for a unified Federal approach for identifying and responding to risks in chemical facilities (including during pre-inspection, inspection execution, post-inspection, and post-accident investigation activities), incident reporting and response procedures, enforcement, and collection, storage, and use of facility information. This effort shall reflect best practices…

…Within 180 days of the date of this order, the Working Group shall produce a proposal for a coordinated, flexible data-sharing process which can be utilized to track data submitted to agencies for federally regulated chemical facilities, including locations, chemicals, regulated entities, previous infractions, and other relevant information…

…Within 90 days of the date of this order, the Administrator of EPA and the Secretary of Labor shall review the chemical hazards covered by the Risk Management Program (RMP) and the Process Safety Management Standard (PSM) and determine if the RMP or PSM can and should be expanded to address additional regulated substances and types of hazards. In addition, the EPA and the Department of Labor shall develop a plan, including a timeline and resource requirements, to expand, implement, and enforce the RMP and PSM in a manner that addresses the additional regulated substances and types of hazards… (and) …issue a Request for Information designed to identify issues related to modernization of the PSM Standard and related standards necessary to meet the goal of preventing major chemical accidents…

There is much more on the White House website. Buckle in folks, it’s going to be a fun few years!

Update: The CSB issued a statement on this executive order.

Update: The ASSE issued a statement as well.

Posted in Community Involvement, Compliance, EPA, Inspections, NEP | Leave a comment

Five Year Independent Full Inspection

IIAR Bulletin 110, Section 6.4.4 calls for something called an “Independent Full Inspection”:

At least every five years, the annual inspection of the vessels and heat exchangers shall be carried out by a competent person independent of immediate commercial and production pressures for that installation, who shall carry out whatever examinations and tests he may consider necessary in order to determine that the equipment is safe for further use or in order to specify such repairs that may be necessary. Special attention should be paid to possible deterioration of areas around supports, particularly of horizontal vessels and the attachments to the vessels. Any inspection of heat exchangers should include tubes and tube-plates whether or not the refrigerant passes through the tubes.

Although it is recognized that the method and extent of testing will be determined by the competent person, who will take into account any relevant regulations, standards and codes applicable at the time of the inspection, guidance is given below on the typical extent of testing envisaged in the preparation of this Bulletin.

Appendix G offers a summation of the requirements:

Unfortunately what we are seeing in the field is a bunch of Bulletin 109 forms being filled out with no documented inspection of supports, insulation or Non-Destructive testing.

This is leading to quite a few fines and it’s something that could easily be stopped if the people requesting the 5 year inspections from their contractors (or the contractors themselves) sat down and read the requirements of the bulletin.

It’s very important we understand WHY this inspection is so vital: The ammonia refrigeration industry does not want to have the API (American Petroleum Institute) standards thrust upon us. In an API system every valve, run of pipe, vessel, etc. is tracked and you know quickly it is corroding, how long it will last, when to replace it, etc. In the system most ammonia refrigeration plants use, we have no such tracking. Yes, we do normal preventative maintenance and inspections, but we don’t have a good answer to the question: How long will that pipe/tank/equipment last? The 5 year independent full inspection is meant to answer that, in part, by saying : At least another five years.

An independent full inspection is meant to do things we don’t normally have the expertise to do: Figure out if the supports are still able to hold the loads, quantitatively measure the corrosion in pipe, etc. Your own people can fill out Bulletin 109 forms if you find any value in them, the independent audit is about having experts do the things you can’t or shouldn’t do in house; It’s about having a fresh set of eyes on your system.

Failing to do this will usually result in a 1910.119(j)(4)(ii) citation:

Update 7/11/2013

Please note: You also need to do annual checks but these can be done in-house.

Section 6.7.1 of the IIAR Bulletin 110, Guidelines for Start-up , Inspection and Maintenance of Ammonia Mechanical Refrigeration Systems, states : “All uninsulated piping and associated components such as flanges and supports shall be inspected annually for any damage to or deterioration of the piping or its protective finish; take remedial action where necessary . Section 6.7.2 states: At least as part of the annual piping inspection, but preferably more frequently , the external condition of the insulation and supports shall be inspected.
Posted in Compliance, EPA, General Information, Good Engineering Practices, Mechanical Integrity, NEP, OSHA | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hansen Relief Valve Recall

If you use Hansen relief valves, this bulletin might be of use to you:
Hansen recently discovered that certain pressure relief valves sold to our customers for industrial use from February 16, 2011 to April 4, 2013 are more susceptible to internal corrosion when exposed to standing water inside the valve. Even though the risk is remote, the failure of a pressure release valve could conceivably result in serious personal injury and/or property damage. Consequently, Hansen has initiated a program to send replacement valves so that any valves currently at risk can be replaced promptly. Hansen has not received any reports to date of any valve failures that have resulted in personal injury or property damage, but Hansen is taking this action in the interest of safety and avoiding potential risks. We are therefore issuing this recall of all valves that may be potentially impacted.


Specifically, Hansen H5600A, H5601, H5602, H5600R, H5602R, and H5632R valves with serial numbers 02B11 through 04B13 are susceptible, regardless of pressure setting.


You can download the notification bulletin here.

Posted in General Information, Inspections, Mechanical Integrity | Tagged | Leave a comment

West Texas Damage Photos

I took a lot of pictures today while touring the damage in West, Texas. The album is open for viewing but I warn you that I am not a photographer and sometimes take a half dozen pictures of the same thing hoping one will turn out ok.

You can view the album at this link on Google+

The damage was truly horrific and I am very surprised that more people didn’t lose their life to this tragedy.

Remember that you can donate to the survivors at RETA.

Posted in Community Involvement, Incidents | Tagged | Leave a comment

So, you need a PSM coordinator…

The Situation: Several times a month I get a call from a recruiter or a facility that desperately needs to fill a PSM coordinator position. They quickly learn something that many people in our industry are unaware of – quality PSM practitioners are rare, usually already employed and very expensive!

Now, it’s certainly possible to entice someone out of their current job, but it’s going to be a very expensive proposition. If you need somebody right away there aren’t many other options, but if you have time to plan for the PSM coordinator/manager position, there is often a much better solution: Build your own!

That’s right – take someone you already have in your organization, someone who already possesses the hard to replicate skills, and then train them into the job. Interested? Let me show you how it can be done! First, we have to identify the skills…

The Skills: I’ve visited a hundred or more PSM covered processes and audited just about every kind of PSM program for Ammonia Refrigeration. After a while, you start asking yourself: “Is there a common thread?” to what works and what doesn’t. There seems to be a certain type of person that does very well in the PSM role. These aren’t people who end up hating their PSM duties – they are people who come to love them! These people have a few common skills. While these skills aren’t the ones that many people think of when dealing with PSM, in my experience, they are the ones that often decide between failure and success.

  1. Curiosity – Why do we work this way? How does that work? Who should be doing this? That’s right, plain old curiosity is a rare thing these days. I’ve been to bottling plants and asked the line operator who worked there for a decade how many bottles his machine processes an hour, only to find out that it never occurred to him to ask. This is not the kind of person you want in your PSM role! You need someone who is intensely curious. You need the kind of person who will spend a half day doing internet searches on “Maximum Intended Inventory” before feeling comfortable that the issue is covered in your program. It’s the kind of person that says: “Well, it’s asking for Maximum Intended Inventory and this document has those words in the title, so we must be good” that get you into trouble.
  2. Detail Oriented – I’m not talking about typical levels of detail. I’m talking about an almost pathological need for order and accuracy. Oddly, every single PSM coordinator I know that is good at what they do obsesses about document formatting. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? I think it actually points to something more important: the kind of person that notices the fonts don’t match, that the margins are off, or that the bullet points don’t line up, is also the kind of person that is going to notice much more important things, like incorrect valve numbers. Detail oriented people are also good at taking notes – the kind of notes that actually document what happened in a meeting rather than notes that look like a bad powerpoint rendition of the meeting.
  3. Technically Proficient – I’m not talking about technical proficiency in Ammonia refrigeration. I mean that this is the kind of person who is willing to pick up a manual and set the time on their microwave after a power outage. If you’re the kind of person who has a houseful of electric clocks blinking 12:00, that doesn’t make you a bad person; it’s just not likely you will be a good PSM coordinator. Most important though is the ability to translate the written word into action. You see, as a PSM coordinator that’s exactly what you need to happen – the policies, guidelines and procedures need to become reality through the actions of the people operating the system. If you can’t take the written word and apply it, then you aren’t going to be able to take the action and document it in the written word either.
  4. Computer Skills – I’ve trained operators to write SOPs all over the country and the biggest hurdle is always getting them to use a computer to write. It’s as painful to watch most operators type as it is for them to watch me work on a car engine – and nearly as futile. You see, the skills that you need to create, modify and manipulate documents in Word, Excel, etc. are not in any way useful to the average blue-collar mechanic. For that reason, they don’t bother to develop them – and frankly it would be a waste of time for most of them to do so. They already have valuable skills and their time is better spent honing the skills they already possess or building new ones that complement those skills. Just as there are people who specialize in maintenance, there are also people that specialize in working with computers to produce and manage documents.
  5. Personal Skills – They don’t need to have been voted prom queen/king, but they need to be able to work with people across all levels of the organization. They also need to be able to work with outside vendors, consultants, government officials, regulators, etc. in a professional capacity.

Ok, from what I’ve seen, that’s the list. That’s the skillset that pretty much defines success in the Ammonia Refrigeration PSM role. I am pretty sure you don’t have anyone like that in the maintenance department. In fact, most food or cold storage plants don’t have many people like that in their buildings, let alone their maintenance department. Where are you going to find someone like that?

One Possible Solution: You’ll have to go to a place where those skills are rewarded, where people are hired and retained based on those skills. Do you know where that is in your facility? Believe it or not, most companies have someone they can train into a good PSM coordinator sitting around answering phones and scheduling appointments. That’s right: somewhere you have a standout secretary/personal assistant who has the raw material to be a good PSM coordinator.

Perhaps you are saying to yourself: But secretaries don’t know anything about Ammonia Refrigeration! Well, you’re right; but the reality is that it’s fairly easy to teach a curious, detail oriented, technically proficient person with computer skills what they need to know about Ammonia Refrigeration. It’s certainly a lot easier than it is to teach most Ammonia Refrigeration Mechanics all of those other skill sets that a secretary already has. Remember, we’re not trying to turn this secretary into a great refrigeration mechanic. We just need this new PSM coordinator to know enough about the process that they aren’t stepping on mechanic’s toes or devising silly policies.

A Challenging Transition: How would we make that transition? Well, to make the rest of this conversation easier, let’s imagine a fictional character named Natalie who is already a fairly competent secretary / personal assistant. She’s been with the company for over five years and has a track record of success – she’s a known quantity, something that can’t be said for some outside hire with a fancy resume. She’s got all the requisite skills we’ve outlined above and it turns out she’s sort of bored to tears in her job. It’s obvious if you think about it – she’s already involved in every volunteer committee the work place has to offer. She is always trying to help people out and her role in the office exceeds the actual scope of the job because she’s just the “go-to” person when you need something done.

The Maintenance Manager approaches Natalie with this unique career change. She’ll get to move out of the office and closer to the action – where the products are being made. As we said, Natalie is interested in a challenge, but she wasn’t so unsatisfied that she was looking for another employer. She readily accepts because this opportunity allows her to grow professionally while keeping all her seniority, benefits, vacation time, etc.

A Realistic Training Plan: We’re not going to throw Natalie to the wolves here – we have to train her to do the job she’s been assigned to do. We’re going to start with a little “overview of the process” training. That’s essentially going to involve following around our lead refrigeration technician for two weeks while he/she does the job of a refrigeration mechanic. We’re just trying to get her a little familiarity at this point so we’ll encourage her to ask questions but we’re not expecting any actual hands-on work out of her at this point.

After this two week familiarity training, we’ll pack Natalie off to a 4-day Operator 1 class at a quality ammonia school like GCAP. At the school she’ll learn the basics of refrigeration – how and why it works. Once she’s back from her training, we’ll put her back on shadow duty with that lead refrigeration technician but this time we’ll encourage her to get her hands a little dirty: Maybe help drain some oil pots, swap out filters or coalescers, clean out condensers, etc. We’re not really expecting Natalie to become a mechanic here – we’re just trying to make sure she gets a feel for the tempo and nature of the job.

When the technician is doing things that Natalie has already done, she’ll be expected to spend that down-time familiarizing herself with the existing PSM documentation. When we feel she’s ready (likely just few weeks) we’ll send her off again for some PSM training. (I am admittedly biased because I teach PSM at GCAP, but in all honesty there is no PSM course for Ammonia Refrigeration that holds a candle to the course GCAP provides). By waiting a few weeks to allow Natalie to familiarize herself with the job and the equipment, we’ve really set her up for success at this class!

When Natalie comes back from her training, we’ll ease her into the role of PSM coordinator, starting off by having her perform a Gap Analysis on the PSM system. In this Gap Analysis she’ll compare the requirements of the PSM standard she’s learned and the examples GCAP provided with her documentation at the facility. She’ll list the deficiencies, prioritize them and bring them to the management team. Natalie has just set herself up with a good 3 months’ worth of training/work!

Conclusion: You see how this would all work? I know it works in the real world, because I’ve seen it work across the country. The problem our industry faces is that the kinds of people who make great PSM coordinators are generally not the kind of people who gravitate to maintenance departments. Most of the people who have the right skills aren’t even aware that Ammonia Refrigeration and PSM even exist! You’re going to have to go out there and find them, bring them in, and start them off on a uniquely rewarding career. 

Posted in Compliance, General Information, Training | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Texas Ammonia Explosion Coverage

Just a quick note – I hope to update this later.

The explosion in Texas has caused some reporters to imply that the company’s RMP filing for Anhydrous Ammonia was inaccurate because the “Worst Case Scenario” didn’t include an explosion of the Ammonia Nitrate at the facility.

The “Worst Case Scenario” isn’t something the facility gets to decide – it’s set in the LAW by the EPA at §68.25(c)(1)

“(c) Worst-case release scenario—toxic gases. (1) For regulated toxic substances that are normally gases at ambient temperature and handled as a gas or as a liquid under pressure, the owner or operator shall assume that the quantity in the vessel or pipe, as determined under paragraph (b) of this section, is released as a gas over 10 minutes. The release rate shall be assumed to be the total quantity divided by 10 unless passive mitigation systems are in place.”

It would seem that the facility was taking advantage of the “retail exemption” in the PSM rule to avoid being a PSM covered process as they filed their RMP as a L2 process. Note that Ammonia Nitrate is not a covered chemical under the PSM or RMP rule.

Update: John Astad has a good roundup of how widespread this issue can be.

Posted in Community Involvement, Compliance, EPA | Tagged , | Leave a comment

EPA & Tyson agree to settle in a BIG way

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a Clean Air Act (CAA) settlement with Tyson Foods, Inc. and several of its affiliate corporations to address threats of accidental chemical releases after anhydrous ammonia was released during incidents at facilities in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska, resulting in multiple injuries, property damage, and one fatality.

Tyson is required to, as part of the settlement embodied in the Decree:
  • Conduct third-party audits of its current compliance with the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program requirements at its 23 facilities in EPA Region VII that operate on or more covered processes (ammonia refrigeration equipment). The Audit Protocol requires that third-party auditors with expertise in ammonia refrigeration systems and who are recognized experts in PSM/RMP compliance conduct paper reviews of Tyson’s engineering and design specifications as they relate to the physical systems of the covered processes at the facilities. The Auditor shall next conduct on-site Audits of the ammonia refrigeration systems at all the facilities according to a schedule set forth in the audit protocol. Within 30 days after the completion of each on-site Audit, the Auditor shall provide a report to Tyson and EPA. Within 45 days of receiving the Audit report, Tyson shall submit a response to EPA which shall include a plan to correct identified violations within 6 months for non-capital expenditures and within 12 months for capital expenditures. Once Tyson has completed implementation of any corrective measure, Tyson shall certify the completion of the work.
  • In addition, Tyson has agreed to perform non-destructive testing at certain piping used in its refrigeration systems at the 23 facilities. The non-destructive testing is designed to identify piping that was partly responsible for some of the anhydrous ammonia releases by testing threaded piping connections less than two (2) inches in diameter because of their potential for failure.

The settlement includes a 3.95 million dollar fine and requirements to conduct external (3rd party) audits on 23 facilities. Furthermore, as stated above, those audits must be shared with the EPA who also is requiring a written plan to address the issues including a time limit to do so. I am somewhat familiar with Tyson’s PSM/RMP efforts and consider them above-average for our industry – something that should give all of us some reason to reconsider our PSM/RMP priorities.

You can see the settlement information at this link: http://www.epa.gov/enforcement/waste/cases/tysonfoodsinc.html

The Consent Decree in total:


Posted in Community Involvement, Compliance, EPA | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Are Oil Separators a Confined Space?

Quite a few people have been reporting that OSHA inspectors and consultants are making an issue of people not classifying their compressor oil separators as a confined space. This is vexing because unless your oil separators are “large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work” it wouldn’t appear that the standard (1910.146) applies to them. While I agree that the standard itself might cause confusion, the “Summary and Explanation of the Final Rule” is fairly clear on the matter:

Proposed paragraph (b)(23)(i) stated, as the first criterion, that a space had to be “large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work” in order to be considered a permit-required confined space. Several commenters (Ex. 14-4, 14-42, 14-94, 14-99, 14-143) stated that it was confusing for proposed paragraph (b)(23)(i) to provide that a permit space was sized and configured for bodily entry when the definition of “entry” provided that entry began when the employee’s face broke the plane of the opening into the space. Some of the commenters (Ex. 14-42, 14-94) noted that the proposed definition excluded spaces which contained hazardous atmospheres and into which employees were able to insert only their heads and shoulders. For example, Mr. Martin Finkel, a Certified Marine Chemist with Marine & Environmental Testing, Inc. (Ex. 14-4) stated:

The definition of Permit Required Confined Space, as stated, does not allow for small space[s] which permit entry of a worker[']s head, but not his/her whole body. Such a space may prove just as hazardous if it contains an IDLH atmosphere which the worker breathes. I recall seeing photos of a [fatality] on a barge where only the worker’s head was in the tank – his body remained sprawled on deck – yet the worker was just as dead as if he had entered bodily. Therefore, I suggest removing [paragraph (b)](23)(i) entirely from the definition of Permit Required Confined Space.

The Agency has not adopted this suggestion. While OSHA is concerned that spaces that are too small for complete bodily entry may pose hazards for employees, the Agency did not intend to cover such spaces under the permit space standard. OSHA believes that the NPRM preamble discussion of permit space incidents and of proposed provisions clearly indicates that the proposed rule was intended to cover only spaces that were large enough for the entire body of an employee to enter. As commenters have correctly noted, the proposed definition of “permit required confined space” did not cover the “small” spaces. Such spaces do not meet the definition of “confined space”, nor do they pose hazards comparable to those associated with confined spaces. Since an employee cannot totally enter such spaces, he or she should not have difficulty withdrawing from the space. In order for a space to be considered a permit-required confined space, it must first be a confined space. A space that cannot be entered is not confined; therefore, it does not pose hazards related to the difficulty of exiting the space.

OSHA realizes that an employee may still be injured or killed as a result of some atmospheric hazard within such an enclosed area; however, this standard is not intended to address all locations that pose atmospheric hazards. The Agency believes that the procedures necessary to protect workers from atmospheric hazards alone are not those required by this standard, but are required by other OSHA standards, such as Subpart Z of the General Industry Standards. The exposed employee must also have difficulty exiting the space for many the requirements of section 1910.147 to apply. For example, the need for an attendant to be present is doubtful. Spaces that cannot be entered are small enough to be readily ventilated(8), and in many cases a reaccumulation of a hazardous atmosphere is highly unlikely. Because the requirements set forth in final section 1910.146 are not appropriate for application to spaces into which an employee cannot completely enter, OSHA has retained the language proposed in paragraph (b)(23)(i), which appears under the definition of “confined space” in the final rule.

While oil separators may present safety issues that require addressing in your Process Hazard Analysis, it seems fairly clear that almost all of them are not covered by the Permit Required Confined Space standard.

Posted in Compliance, Inspections, OSHA | Tagged , | Leave a comment