Avoiding training requirements by hiring Contractors? Think again…

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to see a great many different ways to tackle PSM compliance as I audit PSM programs around the country. One thing that surprises me very often is how many people think that they can ignore large portions of the PSM requirements simply by hiring contractors. I’ve seen plants that had no operator training program and no written operating procedures that claimed they didn’t need them because contractors did all the work. It’s not a pleasant experience to show them guidance from OSHA that is over 20 years old, explaining that their plan won’t work:

While paragraph (h)(2) (contractors element) sets forth the duties of the host employer to contract employers, the extent and the depth of these duties will depend to some degree on the category of contractor present. For example, should a contract employer provide employees to operate a process, then those employees would obviously have to be trained to the same extent as the directed hire employees “involved in operating a process” under paragraph (g) (training element) of the final standard.

Generally speaking, all OSHA standards cover all employees including contract employees. In something of a break with tradition, the process safety management rule has separate provisions covering the training of contract employees. This was done primarily for emphasis since contract employees make up a significant portion of some segments of industries covered by the final rule. This is not to say, however, that paragraph (h) is the only section of the process safety rule that applies to contractors. As already indicated, under appropriate circumstances, all of the provisions of the standard may apply to a contractor (i.e., a contractor operated facility). After all, employees of an independent contractor are still employees in the broadest sense of the word and they and their employers must not only follow the process safety management rule, but they must also take care that they do nothing to endanger the safety of those working nearby who work for another employer. Moreover, the fact that this rule has a separate section that specifically lays out the duty of contractors on the job site does not mean that other OSHA standards, lacking a similar section, do not apply to contract employers.

OSHA’s “Summary and Explanation of the Final Rule”

One way to deal with the issue of contractors is to mentally banish the word from your mind when it comes to anything outside the contractor element: treat them the same way you would a “similarly situated employee.” You train them the same way, you require them to follow the same site rules as the rest of your employees such as hot work / line opening permits, and you require them to adhere to the written operating procedures of your process as well as PSM policies such as Incident Investigation and Management of Change.

While it’s possible to outsource the work of a PSM program including the whole operation of the system, you can’t outsource the responsibility of complying with the regulations. If your contractor drops the ball, you’re on the hook with OSHA and the EPA, not the contractor. The absolute worst programs I’ve seen across this country were in plants where the company decided to outsource their compliance and trusted the contractor to make them compliant. Usually they also trust the contractor to audit their own performance as well. They are very shocked and upset when OSHA or the EPA come in for an inspection and find they are nowhere near compliant.

If you haven’t taken the rime to read OSHA’s “Summary and Explanation of the Final Rule” then I would strongly advise you to do so. There’s some real good info in there that will help you better understand why the PSM regulation was designed the way it was.

About Brian Chapin

PSM / RMP Compliance Consultant
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