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Recent industrial accidents that have resulted in loss of lives and significant property damage have increased visibility of OSHA’s Process Safety Management Program and EPA’s Risk Management Program, both of which relate to safe operations of industrial sites. It is imperative for industrial companies to be diligent in their obligations in order to maintain compliance and protect employees and the community.

The goal of EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) is to prevent major chemical accidents from causing disasters by establishing a prevention and response program. The RMP program, developed under Section 112(r) of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and promulgated under 40 CFR 68, regulates the storage and/or processing of toxic and flammable substances.  It requires affected facilities to develop and submit Risk Management Plans. These plans must be submitted to EPA and renewed/updated every five years or more often, if needed. 

RMP Applicability Determination

To determine RMP applicability, the first step is to determine whether the facility uses any of the listed chemicals in quantities that exceed the program applicability thresholds. ( (Note that states which have received delegation of the Clean Air Act Section 112(r) program from EPA may have additional requirements for the federally listed chemicals, and/or additional listed chemicals.)

RMP Program Levels

The next step is to determine which “Program Level” applies to the process. EPA has classified affected RMP processes into three distinct “Program Levels” to ensure that individual processes are subject to requirements that appropriately match their size and the risks they pose.  As a result, different facilities covered by the regulations may have different requirements depending on their processes.  Program Level 1 has the least stringent requirements of the three levels, whereas Program Level 3 has the most stringent requirements.

Program Level requirements include:

Program Level 1 ( applies to processes that would not affect the public in the situation of a worst-case release (in accordance with 40 CFR 68, processes “with no public receptors within the distance to an endpoint from a worst-case release”) and with no accidents with specific offsite consequences within the past five years.  Program 1 imposes limited hazard assessment requirements and minimal accident prevention and emergency response requirements.

Program Level 2 ( applies to processes not eligible for Program 1 or subject to Program 3.  Program 2 imposes streamlined accident prevention program requirements, as well as additional hazard assessment, management, and emergency response requirements.

Program Level 3 ( applies to processes not eligible for Program 1, and either subject to OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard [29 CFR 1910.119], or classified in one of ten specified North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) codes. The ten NAICS codes apply to pulp mills, certain chemical manufacturers, and petroleum refineries.  They do not apply to chemical distributors. Program 3 imposes OSHA’s PSM standard as the accident prevention program as well as
additional hazard assessment, management, and emergency response requirements.

In determining program levels for a facility process(es), keep in mind the following:

  • The program levels apply to individual processes and generally indicate the risk management measures necessary to comply with this regulation for the process, not the facility as a whole.  The eligibility of one process for a program level does not influence the eligibility of other covered processes for other program levels.
  • Any process can be eligible for Program 1, even if it is subject to OSHA PSM or is in one of the ten NAICS codes.
  • Program 2 is the default program level. There are no “standard criteria” for Program 2. Any process that does not meet the eligibility criteria for either Programs 1 or 3 is subject to the requirements for Program 2.
  • Only one Program level can apply to a process. If a process consists of multiple production or operating units or storage vessels, the highest Program level that applies to any segment of the process applies to all parts.

For Program 1 processes, based on their limited potential for serious offsite consequences, facilities are not required to implement a prevention program, an emergency response program, or a management system.  Facilities with processes in Program 2 and Program 3 must address each of the three RMP Plan components as described below for those processes.

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RMP Plan Components
  • Hazard Assessment – evaluation of the potential effects of an accidental release, including an estimate of potential release quantities and a determination of downwind effects
  • Prevention Program – intended to prevent accidental releases of regulated substances, including safety precautions and maintenance, monitoring, and employee measures to be used at the source
  • Emergency Response Program – provides for specific actions to be taken in the event of an accidental release, including procedures for informing the public and local agencies responsible for responding to accidental releases, emergency health care, and employee training measures.
Hazard Assessment

The hazard assessment consists of:

  • an inventory of listed substances
  • a five-year history of releases
  • an off-site consequence analysis (OCA)

The OCA is the centerpiece of the hazard assessment; it is an estimate of risk to people and the environment beyond the facility’s fenceline that can result from a chemical release.
The OCA answers four basic questions:

  1. What hazardous substance(s) could be released?
  2. How much of the substance(s) could be released?
  3. How large is the hazard zone created by the release?
  4. How many people could be affected?

The RMP regulations require that an Off-site Consequence Analysis (OCA) be conducted for the worst-case release of the regulated chemical(s). The first step is to identify the appropriate release scenarios based on a facility’s process safety information as well as operational knowledge. The release scenarios for a given RMP-subject process are generally identified as part of a process hazard analysis (PHA).

Typically, a worst-case release scenario is first evaluated, whereby the entire contents of a chemical storage vessel are released over a 10-minute time period.  An example of a worst-case release scenario could be the rupture of the largest ammonia tank in an ammonia process with the total loss of the contents.  Next, a typical OCA will also include an alternative release scenario where safety procedures may make total releases less likely, and where modeled meteorological conditions are based on actual site location, not simply a worst-case assumption.

A facility can use EPA’s chemical- and release rate-specific lookup tables or other, more refined emergency air dispersion models to calculate the distance out to which impacts may exceed the toxic endpoint.  The RMP rule does not specify which model should be used other than the model should be one that 1) is publicly available, 2) accounts for the required modeling conditions, and 3) is recognized by industry as acceptable.  The advantage of using an air dispersion model is that it may be more accurate than EPA’s methodology for predicting the mixing of pollutants in air and the distance to end­point. 

In order of complexity, possible analytical approaches include:

  • EPA look-up tables
  • ALOHA (Aerial Location of Hazardous Atmospheres) dispersion model
  • BREEZE® Incident Analyst (includes additional dense gas and fire/explosion models)

EPA’s lookup tables are contained within the RMP*CompTM program, available on EPA’s website.  These tables are easy to use and are a quick way to assess incidents. However, the tables are based on conservative assumptions that may indicate major impacts at the predicted distance to the toxic endpoint for a given chemical.  In fact, hazard distances using the lookup tables may exceed those from refined modeling by as much as 5-10 times.

If modeling is preferred, it is often performed with EPA’s ALOHA model, which consists of both neutrally-buoyant and dense gas models.  The user inputs source release data for the chemical(s) of interest and the program selects the appropriate model based on the chemical phase and expected atmospheric behavior.  Another option is the BREEZE® Incident Analyst program for accidental chemical releases and consequence modeling.  It contains a full suite of industry-proven toxic dispersion, fire, and explosion models, and powerful tools for assessing threats to life and property due to accidental chemical releases.The additional tools give the analyst access to additional modeling functionality that could characterize releases in a more realistic manner than RMP* Comp or ALOHA may allow.

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Prevention Program

The Prevention Program consists of seven different elements:

  • Process Safety Information
  • Process Hazard Analysis
  • Operating Procedures
  • Training
  • Maintenance (Mechanical integrity)
  • Compliance Audits
  • Incident Investigation

EPA developed the Prevention Program by identifying these seven basic elements that are the foundation of sound prevention practices. These elements must be integrated into the RMP plan and implemented on an on-going basis. For example, the hazard review must be built on the safety information that has been compiled. The results of the hazard review should be used to revise and update the operating and maintenance procedures. Workers must be trained in these procedures and then use them every day.  Preventive maintenance, including routine inspections, reduces the number of equipment failures and down time.

Process Safety Information

The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that there is an understanding of the safety-related aspects of the equipment and processes at the facility. Having up-to-date safety information about the process is the foundation of an effective prevention program. Many elements (especially the hazard review) depend on the accuracy and thoroughness of the information this element requires.

Safety information should include: 

  • MSDSs for regulated substances
  • Maximum intended inventory of any vessel in which a regulated substance is processed or stored above its threshold quantity
  • Storage and Process Limits - the safe upper and lower temperatures and pressures, process flows (if applicable), and compositions (if applicable) for your process
  • Equipment Specifications for any equipment that is used to store, move, or react regulated substances in a covered process
  • Codes and Standards used to design and build and operate the facility, such as electrical and building codes

Process Hazards Analysis

The RMP regulations require that a Process Hazards Analysis (PHA) be performed to address toxic, fire, and explosion hazards resulting from specific chemicals and their possible impacts on employees, the public, and the environment. A PHA is a thorough, orderly, and systematic approach for identifying, evaluating, and controlling the hazards of processes involving highly hazardous chemicals. A PHA is required for all processes covered by the RMP rule.

Several different methods are available to conduct a PHA, including the following: 

  • What-if method
  • Checklist method
  • What-if/checklist method
  • Hazard and operability study (HAZOP)
  • Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) method
  • Fault tree analysis
  • An appropriate equivalent methodology

Note that the process hazard analysis methodology selected must be appropriate to the complexity of the process, and may involve more than one of the available methodologies. Whichever method(s) is used,the process hazard analysis should address the following:

  • The hazards of the process
  • The identification of any previous incident that had a likely potential for catastrophic consequences
  • Engineering and administrative controls applicable to the hazards and their interrelationships, such as appropriate application of detection methodologies to provide early warning of releases
  • Consequences of failure of engineering and administrative controls
  • Stationary source siting
  • Human factors
  • A qualitative evaluation of a range of the possible safety and health effects of failure of controls

For a particular process, the PHA must be reviewed at least every five years or whenever a major change in the process takes place.

Operating Procedures
Written operating procedures describe in detail what tasks a process operator must perform, set safe process operating parameters that must be maintained, and set safety precautions for operations and maintenance activities. Procedures must be updated whenever there is a major change and before start-up of the changed process.

Operating procedures must address:

  • Initial start-up
  • Normal operations
  • Temporary operations
  • Emergency shutdown
  • Emergency operations
  • Normal shutdown
  • Start-up following a normal or emergency shutdown or a major change

All new workers must be trained in the operating procedures developed under the previous prevention program element.  Additionally, experienced workers who need training on these procedures should also be trained. Any time the operating procedures are revised, everyone must be trained using the new procedures. At least once every three years, refresher training must be provided on the operating procedures even if they have not changed. Note that a specific amount of training or type of training not required.

Maintenance Program
Preventive maintenance, inspection, and testing of equipment is critical to safe operations. The hazard review and safety information will have identified equipment that is critical to safe operations. This information can then be used to develop the maintenance program. 

The basic elements of a maintenance program include:

  • Written procedures - to maintain the mechanical integrity of process equipment
  • Training for workers in the maintenance procedures
  • Inspection & testing schedules for inspecting and testing equipment based on manufacturers’ recommendations

Compliance Audits
Risk management programs should be reviewed periodically to ensure that employees and contractors are implementing it properly. This can be accomplished through a compliance audit.  An audit reviews each of the prevention program elements to ensure that they are up-to-date and are being implemented. It should also identify problem areas as well as corrective actions. At least every three years, compliance with the prevention program requirements must be certified for each covered process.

Incident Investigation
Each incident which resulted in, or could have resulted in, a catastrophic release of a regulated substance, must be investigated. A catastrophic release is one that presents an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and the environment. If the incident meets the criteria for including in the five-year accident history section of the RMP, then an incident investigation is warranted. The purpose of this investigation is to find out what went wrong and why, so that it can be prevented in the future.

The following briefly summarize the steps for investigating incidents:

  • Initiate an investigation promptly
  • Summarize the investigation in a report
  • Address the report’s findings and recommendations
  • Review the report with staff and contractors
  • Retain the report
Emergency Response Program

The final element in the RMP plan is a complete emergency preparedness and response plan. If there is at least one Program 2 or Program 3 process at the facility, the RMP program requires that an emergency response program be developed and implemented ONLY IF facility employees (and not local public responders) will respond to any releases involving regulated substances. 

The Emergency Response Program consists of the following elements:

  • An emergency response plan (ERP) that includes:
    • Procedures for informing the public and emergency response agencies about releases
    • Documentation of proper first aid and emergency medical treatment necessary to treat human exposures
    • Procedures and measures for emergency response
  • Procedures for using, inspecting, testing, and maintaining the emergency response equipment
  • Training for all employees in relevant procedures
  • Procedures to review and update, as appropriate, the emergency response plan to reflect changes at the facility and ensure that employees are informed of changes
General Duty Clause

While the RMP applies specifically to facilities that use regulated substances in excess of EPA thresholds, the RMP rule applies to other emission sources via the “general duty” clause. This provision states that facilities have a “general duty” to identify hazards that may result from accidental releases, to design and maintain a safe facility, and to minimize the consequences of releases when they do occur.  This means that virtually any site may have risk management obligations under the RMP as a result of potential hazards associated with processes and materials.

Renewal Requirements

Facilities that already have an RMP must update their plans every five years or as needed.  Typically, the facility will receive a letter from EPA with renewal instructions including the use of EPA’s RMP*eSubmit website, a secure process that simplifies the reporting process and improves data quality and security.  Employee refresher training, compliance audits, and updating safety information, hazard review (or process hazards analysis), operating procedures, and offsite consequence analysis should also occur around the five year renewal data or sooner if needed to address process changes.

Enforcement Momentum

EPA is ramping up RMP enforcement efforts. Its Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) made RMP inspections a high priority for fiscal year 2013. OSWER tasked regional offices with conducting RMP inspections of at least four percent of all regulated facilities, with 30 percent of those inspections taking place at high-risk facilities. In addition, EPA is building a more rigorous RMP inspection program in response to a March 2013 Office of Inspector General report that concluded that EPA’s RMP inspectors and their supervisors were inadequately trained and that the agency had limited mechanisms in place to ensure that quality inspections were performed. Finally, political pressure (led by Senator Barbara Boxer-CA) for increased oversight of chemicals in general is increasing in the aftermath of the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion on April 17, 2013. 

Given EPA’s increased focus on RMP enforcement and its intention to seek larger penalties for violations, owners of RMP-regulated facilities should carefully evaluate their RMP program compliance and preparedness for EPA inspections.RMP Photo2