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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Who is Certified / Qualified to Train Process Operators?

Variations of this question are a favorite of OSHA/EPA inspectors and generally the question is infuriating. It reminds me of the stories of medieval monks arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin – it’s a question with ZERO relevance to the requirements of the PSM/RMP standard. Why? Well, remember that PSM/RMP is a Performance-Based Standard and let’s look at the requirements:

First, we have Initial Training in 1910.119(g)(1)(i) which tells us what to provide training in and when to provide it:

Each employee presently involved in operating a process, and each employee before being involved in operating a newly assigned process, shall be trained in an overview of the process and in the operating procedures as specified in paragraph (f) of this section. The training shall include emphasis on the specific safety and health hazards, emergency operations including shutdown, and safe work practices applicable to the employee’s job tasks.

That’s telling us we have to train people BEFORE they work on the process. Generally speaking, that’s interpreted as before they start working on the process independently because it’s assumed that shadowing already qualified operators is an accepted training method. It also tells us that they need to be trained in the hazards of the process, emergency operations, shutdowns and safe work processes that are applicable to the things they are going to be asked to do.

So, if I am going to bring Suzy on board as an operator, I have to train her in the overall hazards of the process, how to operate it (including emergency operations), how to shut it down and in the safe work processes that she’s going to be asked to perform. If I am asking her to clean a condenser sump, I have to have trained her in it. If I am NOT asking her to do that task, then I don’t have to train her in it!

Next, we have Refresher Training in 1910.119(g)(2) which again tells us what to provide training in and when to provide it:

Refresher training shall be provided at least every three years, and more often if necessary, to each employee involved in operating a process to assure that the employee understands and adheres to the current operating procedures of the process. The employer, in consultation with the employees involved in operating the process, shall determine the appropriate frequency of refresher training.

That’s telling us that we have a performance burden – “to assure that the employee understands and adheres” to the current operating procedures of the process. Let me be really honest here: If your employee understood the procedure at one point (assuming you haven’t changed it) then they should understand it forever. Lacking the interference of hard drugs, brain injuries or Alzheimer’s’ you don’t un-understand something. What the issue is really is this: People ignore procedures. You have to make sure the practice in the field matches the practice in your written procedure.

Ok, now we know what to provide training in and when to provide it. The question that is vexing us is: Who can provide the training? There is no clear answer to this, but there is a very defensible answer to this and it is based on the documentation requirements in 1910.119(g)(3):

The employer shall ascertain that each employee involved in operating a process has received and understood the training required by this paragraph. The employer shall prepare a record which contains the identity of the employee, the date of training, and the means used to verify that the employee understood the training.

You see that bit at the end: “…the means used to verify that the employee understood the training?” That’s a performance burden, and if you couple that with the 1910.119(g)(2) performance burden, you get this:

Do your employees understand the training you provided so that they:

  • Understand the process
  • Understand the procedures
  • Follow the procedures

Ask yourself a question: If you were training an employee in draining an oil pot, how would you know that your training was successful?

In the real world, we know a trainee understands the procedures and follows them by observing them performing the task. You provide the training. You go through the procedure with them. Maybe you have them observe you doing the task. At some point, you’re going to have them perform the task and observe that they follow the procedure.

Some people get caught up in the HOW when it comes to training. What I described above is, in my opinion, the best way to train an operator in the real world. But, honestly, the HOW isn’t important – what’s important is the results of the training. If you bring in an MIT professor to teach thermodynamics, or a group of traveling circus midgets who “teach” thermodynamics through the power of interpretive dance, the ONLY acceptable real-world criteria for judging the qualifications of those trainers is the results of the training.


Note: Yes, it’s easier to defend the use of a college professor teaching the material – or for that matter a RETA RAI or CIRO than someone without qualifications. That said, at some point the argument becomes futile: Who certified those people and what makes them qualified? If you follow that trail far enough you end up at the same place. At some point, someone did the job well enough and often enough that the people around them said: This guy knows his stuff. Qualification is in the doing. Ultimately being able to do the job is the only defensible argument that you were trained in it and, frankly, the only one that really matters.

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Misunderstanding MOC

Recently a valve manufacturer that I respect posted a LinkedIn advertisement for one of their new relief valves. I love new technology so I was really interested in it but noticed something they posted in the graphic: “No PSM Changes required.” When we are replacing one valve for another and that valve is not an IDENTICAL replacement, this is VERY wrong.

Work through this with me here…

Changing a relief valve to a different type of valve would still require you to evaluate:

  • PHA: Does your PHA anticipate/support the use of this valve? It’s definitely classified as an engineering control (119(e)(3)(iii)) that needs to be part of your PHA.
  • PSI: Does it have the same capacity? Are your relief calculations still accurate?
  • MI/SOP: Is it maintained, inspected, installed and replaced the same way (1910.119(j)(2-5))?
  • Training: Are your people trained to maintain, inspect, install and replace it? (1910.119(j)(5))
  • PSSR: This definitely requires updated PSI (119(i)(1)), so not only does it require an MOC (1910.119(l)(4-5)) it requires a PSSR as well to ensure that the equipment is installed correctly and that:
    • Safety, operating, maintenance, and emergency procedures are in place and are adequate (119(i)(2)(ii))
    • Training of each employee involved in operating a process has been completed. (119(i)(2)(iv))

PHA: This is actually the element that should drive you to look at every other part of your PSM program mentioned here. In your PHA, you likely take credit for an engineered relief calculation (PSI element), a Maintenance Program (MI Element) including written procedures (MI & possibly SOP elements) and Training (Training element)

PSI: Let’s assume you check and it does have the same capacity: Don’t you want to take credit for this work and document it? I’ve never seen a relief calculation that didn’t show the relief valve model so won’t you want to update that as well? Do you have the new cut-sheet in your PSI IOM binder(s) and have you made your people familiar with it?

MI/SOP: Does the current MI schedule work for the new valve? Do the current maintenance, inspection, installation and replacement procedures work for the new valve? Again, even if they do, don’t you want to document that you looked?

Training: Have you conducted training on any differences you found in the elements above?

PSSR: Have you documented a PSSR that shows that the program has been updated, an MOC conducted (and closed out), written procedures provided and that training has been completed?

I am guessing they are trying to call this a Replacement in Kind but that is pretty sloppy thinking even if it were still the 90’s. Let me remind you of my favorite MOC guidance from the old OSHA PSM directive:

The standard requires that an MOC procedure be completed, regardless of whether any safety and health impacts will actually be realized by the change. The intent is, in part, to have the employer analyze any potential safety and health impacts of a change prior to its implementation. Even if the employer rightly concludes there would be no safety and health impacts related to a change, 1910.119(l)(1) still requires the employer to conduct the MOC procedure. The MOC requirements are important because many large incidents have occurred in the past when changes have been made and the employer either did not consider the safety and health impacts of the change, or did not appreciate (wrongly concluded) the potential consequences of the change before it was too late. Therefore, it is not only required, but important that the employer conducts an MOC procedure on each change, even those changes the employer believes will have no safety or health impacts.

Posted in Compliance, Good Engineering Practices, Management of Change | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What the Ammonia refrigeration industry can learn from West, TX

Last night I attended the CSB Public Meeting in Waco, TX concerning the 2013 West, TX Ammonia Nitrate explosion. The purpose of the meeting was to release their report on the incident.

The explosion resulted in 15 fatalities and 260 injuries. When the incident first occurred, the media blamed the co-located Anhydrous Ammonia for the explosion. No knowledgeable person that saw the video of the explosion thought this was an ammonia fire. What you are witnessing below is not a deflagration (from Ammonia) but a detonation from Ammonia Nitrate.

During a break, I asked one of the investigators “How quickly did you know this wasn’t an Anhydrous Ammonia explosion?” His answer, “On day one!” Yet, still today we have articles blaming this explosion on Anhydrous Ammonia. I know several refrigeration plants that were inspected by OSHA and told that their inspection was caused by the incident in West, TX.

During the public comment period at the end of the night, Dr. M. Sam Mannan from the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M delivered some great remarks.

“Unless we learn to make these changes happen, that is capture the lessons learned into our practices and activities, I am afraid that these well done and thoughtful investigation reports will not yield any beneficial outcome. The same is true with incidents involving other chemicals. Very few incidents involve unknown root causes or lessons learned. In fact, there is a sameness of all incidents and it seems to me that we are watching the same basic set of circumstances over and over again. The systematic root causes and lessons learned from all incidents are more or less the same. Right after any incident there is a big push to learn from the incident, and then quickly everything is forgotten and we resume business as usual.”

So, even though this wasn’t an Anhydrous Ammonia incident, what can the Ammonia refrigeration industry learn from West, TX? Here are my thoughts:

  • Understand that your RAGAGEP (Recognized and Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practices) evolves and so should your process.
  • Don’t leave recommendations from previous audits / inspections unaddressed.
  • Take the time to develop a relationship with your emergency responders and drill on the incidents you could face together.

RAGAGEP – In this incident, there were consensus standards that provided safer practices for storing the ammonia nitrate. The facility believed themselves “Grandfathered” and ignored evolving, improved practices that would have almost assured this incident couldn’t have happened. Takeaway question for you: When is the last time you updated and looked at your IIAR Ammonia Refrigeration Library?

Recommendations – The insurance carrier for the facility made several recommendations over a period of years and didn’t receive much response to them. After several years of difficulties, the insurance carrier dropped them as a client. That’s a red flag that you have some cultural problems! While none of the recommendations the insurance carrier made were likely to have directly prevented the incident, it is likely that the culture developed from fixing known problems would have led to fixing the previously mentioned RAGAGEP issues. Takeaway question for you: When is the last time you looked through your Compliance Audits, PHA, MI, Incident Investigations, etc. to make sure there aren’t some open items you could address?

Emergency Responders – There was essentially no communication to the emergency responders about the detonation hazards of ammonia nitrate. They had knowledge of the Anhydrous Ammonia and had even drilled on dealing with it, but they were completely unprepared for the possibility of an ammonia nitrate explosion. Takeaway question for you: When is the last time you had the local emergency responders out to your site for a tour and a discussion on the hazards they COULD face in an emergency?

Please consider these three things above at your facility. Your efforts could mean we get to avoid going to a future CSB event concerning your facility.

On a personal note: The couple sitting directly in front of me lost their son, a volunteer firefighter, to the blast. One of the CSB investigators came over to talk with the family and spent a few moments discussing who he was as a person. It was a very emotional thing and I applaud the investigator for taking a little bit of time last night to acknowledge the victims as people, not just as statistics. The board started the meeting with a moment of silence for the victims, which was also appropriate and appreciated.

The CSB has had a rough few years, but what I saw last night gave me renewed hope.

Link: Photos from last night

Link: Previous post on the incident including photos of the damage.

Update: Link to new CSB Video that provides a nice overview

Posted in Community Involvement, Compliance, CSB, Culture, Good Engineering Practices, Incidents | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A little memo with some very big implications


Memo of Understanding between the DOL and DOJ:

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), recognizing the importance of ensuring the health and safety of America’s workforce, enter into this memorandum of understanding (MOU) to provide for coordination of matters pertaining to worker safety that could lead to criminal prosecution by DOJ. This MOU establishes a process and framework for notification, consultation and coordination between DOL and DOJ to aid both agencies in more effectively implementing our nationa l workplace statutes.

That means, that employers now face prison terms of up to 20 years instead of the paltry 6 months for OSHA violations if they are convicted of certain crimes that contribute to the deaths of employees.

More from the memo to US Attorneys:

Prosecutors can make enforcement meaningful by charging other serious offenses that often occur in association with OSH Act violations – including false statements, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, conspiracy, and environmental and endangerment crimes. With penalties ranging from 5 to 20 years’ incarceration, plus significant fines, these felony provisions provide additional important tools to deter and punish workplace safety crimes.

Below is the actual Memorandum of Understanding between the DOL and DOJ as well as the Memo explaining the initiative to the US Attorneys.


EHS Article

Memo to US Attorneys re Worker Endangerment Initiative

Memorandum of Understanding between DOJ and DOL re Worker Safety


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OSHA fines to rise 80%?

OSHA Defense Report says that the  “Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015,” gives OSHA the green light to increase penalty amounts to catch up with cost of living adjustments since the last time OSHA’s civil penalties were raised (1990).

The changes would bring the maximum  fines to $12,000 for a Serious Violation and $120,000 for a Repeat or Willful violation.

I’d like to think that the safety of employees & the public was enough to ensure compliance, but the reality is that even these fine structures are probably too LOW to motivate recalcitrant employers.

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Link to OSHA publication – Highlights (underline) are mine. Note that they reference the CCPS again. The really good stuff is at the bottom in the notes to the inspectors.


Deputy Assistant Secretary
Directorate of Enforcement Programs
SUBJECT: RAGAGEP in Process Safety Management Enforcement

This memorandum provides guidance on the enforcement of the Process Safety Management (PSM) Standard’s recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices (RAGAGEP) requirements, including how to interpret “shall”  and “should”  language in published codes, standards, published technical reports, recommended practices (RP) or similar documents, and on the use of internal employer documents as RAGAGEP.  Enforcement activity, including the Petroleum Refinery Process Safety Management National Emphasis Program (Refinery NEP), and requests for assistance from the field, revealed the need for guidance on the PSM standard’s RAGAGEP provisions.

Background on Recognized and Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practices

The PSM Standard, 29 CFR 1910.119, directly references or implies the use of RAGAGEP in three provisions:

  • (d)(3)(ii):  Employers must document that all equipment in PSM-covered processes complies with RAGAGEP;
  • (j)(4)(ii):  Inspections and tests are performed on process equipment subject to the standard’s mechanical integrity requirements in accordance with RAGAGEP; and
  • (j)(4)(iii): Inspection and test frequency follows manufacturer’s recommendations and good engineering practice, and more frequently if indicated by operating experience.

In addition, (d)(3)(iii) addresses situations where the design codes, standards, or practices used in the design and construction of existing equipment are no longer in general use.

The PSM standard does not define RAGAGEP. However, the Refinery National Emphasis Program (CPL 03-00-010) references the definition found in the Center for Chemical Process Safety’s (CCPS)Guidelines for Mechanical Integrity Systems:

“Recognized And Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practices” (RAGAGEP) – are the basis for engineering, operation, or maintenance activities and are themselves based on established codes, standards, published technical reports or recommended practices (RP) or similar documents. RAGAGEP detail generally approved ways to perform specific engineering, inspection or mechanical integrity activities, such as fabricating a vessel, inspecting a storage tank, or servicing a relief valve.

As used in the PSM standard, RAGAGEP apply to process equipment design, installation, operation, and maintenance; inspection and test practices; and inspection and test frequencies.  RAGAGEP must be both “recognized and generally accepted” and “good engineering” practices.

The PSM standard allows employers to select the RAGAGEP they apply in their covered processes .

Primary Sources of RAGAGEP

  1. Published and widely adopted codes

    Certain consensus standards have been widely adopted by federal, state, or municipal jurisdictions.  For example, many state and municipal building and other codes incorporate or adopt codes such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101 Life Safety and NFPA 70 National Electric codes.  Such published and widely accepted codes are generally accepted by OSHA as RAGAGEP, as are Federal, state, and municipal laws and regulations serving the same purposes.

  2. Published consensus documents

    Certain organizations like the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) follow the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) Essential Requirements: Due process requirements for American National Standards (Essential Requirements) when publishing consensus standards and recommended practices.  Under the ANSI and similar requirements, these organizations must demonstrate that they have diverse and broadly representative committee memberships.  Examples of published consensus documents include the ASME B31.3 Process Piping Code and the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration’s (IIAR) ANSI/IIAR 2-2008 – Equipment, Design, and Installation of Closed-Circuit Ammonia Mechanical Refrigerating Systems.  Published consensus documents are very widely used as RAGAGEP by those knowledgeable in the industry, and are accepted as RAGAGEP by OSHA.

  3. Published non-consensus documents

    Some industries publish non-consensus engineering documents using processes not conforming to ANSI’s Essential Requirements.  For example, the Chlorine Institute’s (CI) “pamphlets” focus on chlorine and sodium hypochlorite (bleach) safety.  Where applicable, the practices described in these documents are widely accepted as good practices and used in industries handling these materials.  Similarly, CCPS publishes an extensive set of guideline books, some, but not all, of which deal with process equipment specific topics, e.g., the Design Institute for Emergency Relief Systems’ technology for reactive and multi-phase relief systems design1.  Peer-reviewed technical articles addressing specific hazards may also fall into this category and may be considered when published standards or recommended practices are not available or are not adequate to address specific hazards. OSHA may accept such materials as RAGAGEP where applicable and appropriate.

    Note that 29 CFR 1910.119(j)(4)(iii) also recognizes applicable manufacturer’s recommendations as potential sources of RAGAGEP.

“Appropriate Internal Standards”

The preamble to the PSM standard recognizes that employers may develop internal standards for use within their facilities. The preamble states, in relevant part:

The phrase suggested by rulemaking participants: “recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices” is consistent with OSHA’s intent. The Agency also believes that this phrase would include appropriate internal standards of a facility . . .2 [emphasis added].

The preamble, however, does not imply that employers may disregard applicable published RAGAGEP.3  Internally developed standards must still represent “recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices.”

Facility internal standards can serve a number of legitimate purposes, including:

  1. Translating the requirements of published RAGAGEP into detailed corporate or facility implementation programs and/or procedures.
  2. Setting design, installation, maintenance, inspection, and testing requirements for unique processes, equipment, and hazards for which no published RAGAGEP exists.
  3. Supplementing (or augmenting) published RAGAGEP that only partially or inadequately address the employer’s processes, occupancies, conditions, and hazards. In this situation OSHA (and often the publisher) expect employers/users to supplement the published RAGAGEP with their own applicable practices, protocols, and procedures to control hazards.4
  4. Controlling hazards more effectively than the available codes, standards, or practices.
  5. Addressing hazards when the codes and standards used for existing equipment are outdated and no longer describe good engineering practice.

Employers’ internal standards must either meet or exceed the protective requirements of published RAGAGEP where such RAGAGEP exist.  OSHA has rejected employer standards that deviated from published RAGAGEP where the deviations were less protective than the published requirements.

“Shall” and “Should” in RAGAGEP

“Shall,” “must,” or similar language used in published RAGAGEP reflects the developer’s view that the practice is a mandatory minimum requirement to control a hazard.  Similarly, “shall not,” “prohibited,” or similar language references or describes unacceptable approaches or practices.  If an employer deviates from “shall” or “shall not” requirements in the employer’s adopted RAGAGEP (or applicable RAGAGEP if the employer has not specified RAGAGEP), OSHA will presume a violation.

Use of the term “should” or similar language in the RAGAGEP reflects an acceptable and preferred approach, in the view of the publishing group, to controlling a recognized hazard.  If a selected RAGAGEP provision is applicable to the covered process or particular situation, OSHA presumes that employer compliance with the recommended approach is acceptable.

If an employer chooses to use an alternate approach to the one the published “should” RAGAGEP says applies, the CSHO should evaluate whether the employer has determined and documented that the alternate approach is at least as protective, or that the published RAGAGEP is not applicable to the employer’s operation.  In the absence of such documentation, the CSHO should examine documents, such as relevant process hazards analyses (PHAs) and management of change procedures (MOCs), to determine if the employer’s approach is as protective as the published RAGAGEP and is a good engineering practice. This may require consultation with Regional resources or the OSHA National Office (see below).

“Should not” or similar language describes disfavored or less than fully protective practices.  Following such disfavored practices is presumed to be violative.

For technical help, consult with your Regional PSM Coordinator, technical support engineer, or contact the PSM group at OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs – Office of Chemical Process Safety and Enforcement Initiatives at 202-693-2341.

“Normative” and “Informative” Requirements.

Published codes and consensus documents frequently contain appendices or annexes that provide supplemental information and/or requirements.  The content of these appendices or annexes may be “normative” or “informative.”   “Normative” sections generally explain how to comply with the published code and/or consensus document requirements and may contain both “shall” and “should” language.  As discussed above, “shall” denotes the developer’s view that the normative statement is mandatory, while “should” indicates an acceptable or preferred approach.  “Informative” sections generally provide background and reference information with respect to the published code and/or consensus document requirements but may also identify and/or address hazards or acceptable means of abatement. Again, for technical help, CSHOs should consult their Regional PSM coordinator, technical support engineer, or the Office of Chemical Process Safety and Enforcement Initiatives.

Other Uses of RAGAGEP Materials in PSM

Only the three sections of 1910.119 referenced above require compliance with RAGAGEP. However, RAGAGEP can also provide useful background and context, and can help CSHOs identify and document hazards and feasible means of abatement when reviewing other aspects of the employer’s PSM program and covered equipment.

Enforcement considerations

In accordance with 1910.119, employers select the RAGAGEP with which their equipment and procedures must comply.  In evaluating RAGAGEP compliance, CSHOs should be aware of a number of potential issues:

  1. There may be multiple RAGAGEP that apply to a specific process.  For example, American Petroleum Institute (API), RP 520 Sizing, Selection, and Installation of Pressure-Relieving Devices in Refineries Part II – Installation, and International Standards Organization, Standard No. 4126-9,  Application and installation of safety devices, are both RAGAGEP for relief valve installation and contain similar but not identical requirements.  Both documents are protective and either is acceptable to OSHA.
  2. Employers do not need to consider or comply with a RAGAGEP provision that is not applicable to their specific worksite conditions, situations, or applications. 
  3. Some employers apply RAGAGEP outside of their intended area of application, such as using ammonia refrigeration pressure vessel inspection recommended practices in a chemical plant or refinery process.  Use of inapplicable RAGAGEP can result in poor hazard control and can be grounds for citations.
  4. There may be cases where fully applicable RAGAGEP do not exist to control hazards in an employer’s covered process.  As discussed in “Appropriate Internal Standards”, above, the employer’s internal standards (guidance and procedures) are expected to address the process hazards.  Whether the internal standards are adequately protective should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
  5. An employer’s internal standards may be more stringent than the relevant published RAGAGEP.  More-stringent standards may be needed to adequately control hazards due to the unique characteristics of the employer’s process.  This should be documented.  Employers that meet published RAGAGEP requirements, but that fail to comply with their own more stringent internal requirements, may be citable under other PSM provisions:
    • If there is a failure to follow more stringent internal Inspection & Test (I&T) procedures, consider citations under 1910.119(j)(2) for failure to implement their written I&T procedures
    • Process equipment may be outside acceptable limits defined in the employer’s PSI.  If so, consider citations under 1910.119(j)(5).
    • Additional or more stringent equipment safeguards may be specified by employers based on findings and recommendations from PHAs and supporting documents, such as Layers of Protection Analyses, siting studies, human factors studies, Quantitative Risk Assessments, and similar risk management activities, as well as Incident Investigations, or Management of Change procedures. Failure to implement or complete documented actions-to-be-taken may be cited under the relevant section of the Standard (e.g., 1910.119(e), (l), or (m)).
  6. Selectively applying individual provisions from multiple RAGAGEP addressing similar hazards might be inappropriate.  Standard writing organizations develop their requirements as packages and mixing-and-matching provisions from multiple sources could result in inadequately controlled hazards.  This situation should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Consult the regional PSM Coordinator, regional engineering support, or the Office of Chemical Process Safety and Enforcement Initiatives if you are uncertain how to proceed.
  7. The PSM standard requires employers to document that their inspection and testing of equipment, required under 1910.119(j)(4)(ii) and (iii), is in accordance with their selected RAGAGEP, (e.g., as referenced in the written procedures required by 1910.119(j)(2)).  Failure to do so is citable.
  8. In accordance with 1910.119(d)(3)(ii), employers must document that their covered process equipment and equipment whose operation could affect that process equipment comply with RAGAGEP (equipment built to older standards may come under 1910.119(d)(3)(iii), see paragraph 10 below).  Equipment that does not comply with RAGAGEP cannot be documented as compliant.  Therefore, both the failure to document compliance and the deviations from compliance with RAGAGEP can be cited under (d)(3)(ii).

    When writing 1910.119(d)(3)(ii) RAGAGEP-related citations, always cite the employer for failing to document compliance with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices, describe the hazard, e.g., exposure of employees to fire, explosion, or toxic hazards, and reference the RAGAGEP selected by the employer.  If the employer has not specified an applicable RAGAGEP, use “such as” language to reference an applicable published RAGAGEP.

  9. Equipment covered under PSM’s Mechanical Integrity provisions (listed in 1910.119(j)) that is outside acceptable limits, as defined by the process safety information (including RAGAGEP), is deficient under 1910.119(j)(5).  Employers are required by this provision to correct deficiencies before further use or in a safe and timely manner when necessary means are taken to assure safe operation in the interim.  If an employer fails to correct the deficiency before further use, or fails to implement adequate interim measures and to schedule a permanent correction timely, the failure may be cited under 1910.119(j)(5).  If an employer has implemented interim measures and scheduled correction, additional investigation may be required to determine whether the interim measures are adequate and the scheduled correction is timely. 1910.119(d)(3)(ii) and (j)(5) citations are often grouped.  Consult your Regional OSHA support staff and/or SOL if you are uncertain if grouped citations are appropriate.

    Note, in the case where an employer is operating deficient equipment based on the use of interim safeguards pending final correction of the deficiency, 29 CFR 1910.119(l) requires that the employer develop and implement a management-of-change procedure for the continued safe operation of the equipment.

  10. Older covered equipment may not have been designed and constructed under an applicable RAGAGEP because none existed at the time of design and construction. Alternatively, the equipment may have been designed and constructed under provisions of codes, standards, or practices that are no longer in general use.  In such cases, 29 CFR 1910.119(d)(3)(iii) requires employers to determine and document that the equipment is designed, maintained, inspected, tested, and operating in a safe manner.  Failure to do so may be cited under 1910.119(d)(3)(iii).

    When writing 1910.119(d)(3)(iii) citations, always cite the employer for failing to determine and document that the relevant equipment design, maintenance, inspection and testing, and/or operation ensure the safety of the equipment.

    If the employer has adopted an appropriate internal standard applicable to such older equipment, 29 CFR 1910.119(d)(3)(ii) requires the employer to document that the equipment complies with the internal standard.  Failure to do so may result in a citation under 29 CFR 1910.119(d)(3)(ii).

  11. When a 29 CFR 1910.119(d)(3)(ii) or (iii) citation is under consideration, it is important to establish and to document the age and installation date of the relevant process and equipment, and the dates and extent of process and equipment modifications, as well as the exact RAGAGEP selected by the employer, including the edition and publication date.
  12. Organizations that publish RAGAGEP may update them based on newly identified or recognized hazards; improved understanding of existing hazards; industry operating experience; and/or incidents indicating that more stringent hazard control is needed. If the updated RAGAGEP explicitly provides that new clauses or requirements are retroactive, OSHA expects employers that have selected that RAGAGEP to conform to those provisions. Where RAGAGEP are updated to be more protective but are not explicitly retroactive, PSM does not mandate that employers upgrade their equipment, facilities, or practices to meet current versions of their selected RAGAGEP.  However, OSHA does expect employers to address issues raised by or identified in the updated RAGAGEP in accordance with 1910.119(d)(3)(iii) by determining and documenting that their equipment is designed, maintained, inspected, tested, and operating in a safe manner. This can be accomplished through a variety of approaches, such as but not limited to the PHA revalidation and management of change (MOC) processes, or through corporate monitoring and review of published standards. Citations for 29 CFR 1910.119(d)(3)(iii), either stand-alone or grouped with, for example, (e)(3) or (l)(1), may be appropriate if the employer fails to address the issues (see item 8 above).
  13. Notify the Office of Chemical Process Safety and Enforcement Initiatives if you encounter RAGAGEP that appear to have changed to be less protective or that are being interpreted by employers in a manner that is less protective. In the past, OSHA determined that specific provisions in published guidance documents were not RAGAGEP (i.e., OSHA believed that some written practices provided inadequate protection and were not good engineering practices; therefore, the specific practices in question could not be RAGAGEP).  Such determinations should only be made in consultation with the Office of Chemical Process Safety and Enforcement Initiatives.
  14. When writing 1910.119(j)(4)(ii) citations, always cite the employer for failing to follow RAGAGEP in its inspection and testing procedures, and reference the relevant RAGAGEP adopted / recognized by the employer.  If the employer has not specified an applicable RAGAGEP, use “such as” language to reference an applicable published RAGAGEP.  When the employer’s I&T procedures comply with RAGAGEP, but are not implemented or followed, consider 1910.119(j)(2) citations.
  15. When writing 1910.119(j)(4)(iii) citations, always cite the employer for not inspecting and/or testing process equipment at frequencies consistent with applicable manufacturers’ recommendations and good engineering practices, or more frequently if indicated by prior operating experience, i.e., based on the condition of the equipment when previously inspected or tested.
  16. When writing RAGAGEP-related citations when the employer has not specified a RAGAGEP, CSHOs should be careful to reference in the citation’s alleged violation description only RAGAGEP that are actually applicable to the equipment and process being inspected.  CSHOs have sometimes referenced inapplicable API relief valve RAGAGEP in citations involving ammonia refrigeration processes.

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Change is coming to the Industrial Refrigeration world…

I have seen the future and it is going to mean some very large changes for the Industrial Refrigeration industry. As always, I want to talk about something else, before I get to my point…

I want to talk about Cold Storage / Distribution Warehouses. My first refrigeration job was in an Ice Cream plant that had the traditional, old-school distribution model. People placed packages on pallets manually, picked up the pallets with lifts, put them in racks, and recorded it on a log. Later, when the product was needed, they pulled the pallets down with a lift, took off the packages they needed and placed them on a separate pallet. Forklift drivers took the finished pallets and put them on trucks. It was very labor intensive, required the people to work in brutal environments (-20f at the warmest) and was a little hit-and-miss when it came to inventory tracking. Still, it worked and many people had been doing it their whole careers.

A few years down the road I was at a grocery distribution warehouse. They had added some fancy computer tracking system that told them through a headset what rack to go to. All the packages were scanned when they were put on a pallet or taken off. Still, it was very labor intensive and still awfully cold for the employees.

A few years ago I was at a restaurant supply distribution warehouse that was nearly fully automated. Pallets came off the trucks, were moved to racks by robots. When the pallet was needed for an order, it was removed from the racks by a robot and then put on the floor so people could pick the package they needed. It removed a lot of the labor and nearly all of the rack damage.

A few weeks ago I was in a distribution warehouse for a major retailer. Thousands of SKU’s. Robots did it all. People took the pallets off the trucks and scanned them – from there the robots stored them, picked packages from them, even created the pallets for shipping. Hell, the thing arranged the packages on the pallet so that the employee at the store could pick from the top down and only have to travel one way at the store to re-stock the shelves. The only people left in the operation were the people who unloaded the original pallets from the trucks, loaded the finished picked pallets on the trucks, and the people who maintain the robots.

Check out this video from EDNA International to see how this sort of system works:

Amazing isn’t it? Now think about how many people aren’t needed in these distribution warehouses due to these robots. About 95% of the people that used to work in this warehouse aren’t needed anymore. The few jobs that remain are extremely low-skilled (janitorial, pallet jack operator) and extremely high-skilled such as PLC programmer, electrician, maintenance. All the middle-skill jobs are gone. The sorters, pickers, supervisors, lift operators – They’ve all been replaced by automation.

Ok, now let’s get back to Ammonia refrigeration. I was talking with a colleague about a month ago that was struggling with operating his refrigeration systems. Not because they were problem systems, but because he didn’t have the people he needed to operate them the way they had traditionally operated them. They weren’t available at the wage his employer was willing to pay. He thought that something was happening with wage growth for refrigeration operators.

Traditionally, the refrigeration system was operated by skilled technicians – usually the best the maintenance department had to offer. You trained these already good people in the art & science of refrigeration and they were the caretakers of the system. Then something interesting happened as the equipment and the system design became more complex. The job got harder in some ways and easier in others. Refrigeration system automation made running the systems easy, and fixing them really tough. There were completely new skills needed and those skills were in very high demand.

It reminded me of what happened to the car industry. It used to be that anyone with a bit of sense could maintain a vehicle. With a little trial and error and a Chilton’s manual, you could learn to fix it. As those cars got more complex, the job got beyond the skill and training that the normal person has. The job market for auto mechanics lost the middle. There are jobs to drain oil and they don’t pay enough to make ends meet. At the other end of the spectrum there are jobs that require computer skills, electrical troubleshooting, advanced diagnostics, etc. and those jobs pay very well because there aren’t many people that possess all those skills.

While I was standing in this amazing automated warehouse, watching the robots whir around me at unbelievable speed, I had a moment when some things clicked in my head. I think the days of the blue collar refrigeration mechanic are almost over. It pains me to say this, because I’ve come to love and admire this workforce over the past decade, but I think the writing is on the walls. Like in auto mechanics, and distribution warehouses, the middle in the refrigeration industry is being hollowed out. I’m not particularly happy about it, but I don’t think it’s avoidable.

So, what does the future look like? Here’s my guess:

  • Very automated computer-controlled refrigeration systems with redundant capacity and safeties.
  • Low-skill (and sadly, low-wage) employees that monitor that system and perform walk-through’s to observe its operation.
  • A small, very high-skill, very high-wage group of employees (or contractors) that troubleshoot and maintain the system.

I’ve actually talked to a couple people that already run their systems this way. Normal, everyday tasks such as system monitoring is done by low-skill, low-pay employees. They receive enough training to not be a danger to themselves and others, but once they get to an issue they call a regional engineer or an outside contractor. Routine maintenance (draining oil pots, cleaning condensers, calibrating sensors, etc.) is all outsourced to highly skilled contractors.

If you are currently in the middle of the refrigeration workforce, this doesn’t come as good news. You may want to consider up-skilling to grab those high-skill high-pay regional / contractor jobs. I could be wrong, but I think if you discuss this at your next RETA meeting or maintenance get-together, you’ll find out that it’s already happening.


Interesting link at NPR – Will your job be done by a machine?

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