OSHA to focus on difficult inspections (like PSM) in 2014


With the agency now in its fifth decade, OSHA finds itself at a crossroads concerning how it will direct its enforcement resources. OSHA has always operated under the assumption that “more inspections are better” as the more establishments inspected, the greater OSHA’s presence, and hence the greater the agency’s impact. Consequently there has always been pressure on the agency to conduct more inspections than it did in the previous years. The problem with this model is that not all inspections are created equal as some inspections take more time and resources to complete than the average or typical OSHA inspection, such as those dealing with process safety management (PSM), ergonomics, complicated electrical and machine guarding; or industrial hygiene inspections dealing with unknown or unique chemicals.

… Under the current system, the only incentive for a compliance officer is to meet the inspection goals as there is no incentive for them to do the larger more complicated inspections. It is important to encourage enforcement staff to pursue more resource and time-intensive inspections for several reasons. As a compliance officer is deployed to conduct a PSM inspection, ergonomics inspection, or industrial hygiene inspection, the agency will see a more effective application of its limited resources… In FY 2014, the agency intends to explore an inspection weighting approach in order to direct inspections to high hazard operations – including inspections of refineries and chemical plants, emerging chemical and health issues and workplace violence – operations that require much more time and complexity than the average OSHA inspection. For example, a construction inspection taking 10 hours from start to finish is ranked the same as a process safety management inspection taking over 300 hours to complete. By utilizing this approach the Agency slightly fewer inspections overall, but will focus inspections on areas that require more attention.

As I read that, it seems OSHA realizes it needs to provide an incentive for its CSHOs to perform the more intensive and difficult PSM type inspections. There are other sections in the document where they claim that the number of overall inspections next year will decrease, but the audits conducted will be more intensive. This is an inspection priority that places quality over quantity.

Further trouble may lurk ahead for the Chemical NEP…

The Petroleum Refinery PSM NEP, which took effect in August 2007, was effectively completed in September 2011 after OSHA inspected every non-VPP petroleum refinery under federal OSHA jurisdiction. OSHA is conducting a thorough evaluation of the 2007 NEP. Since 2009, OSHA has had a pilot program for a PSM Covered Chemical Facilities NEP. The permanent Chemical NEP took effect in FY 2012. In FY 2013, OSHA began evaluating the effectiveness of this NEP, in light of the Refinery NEP evaluation, to develop options for implementing a new enforcement strategy that may target both PSM covered refineries and chemical facilities under the same emphasis program.

There aren’t a whole lot of differences between the two programs as they stand now, but placing them under the same umbrella may well result in even more of the line-blurring we see between Refinery RAGAGEP and Ammonia Refrigeration RAGAGEP.

I am teaching a ChemNEP class at GCAP on September 23-26 with Josh Latovich. If you haven’t attended one of these seminars, they focus not only on the ChemNEP protocol but on many of the “secret questions” that are asked during the inspection.

About Brian Chapin

PSM / RMP Compliance Consultant
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