If you’re an operator of an oil and gas or chemical facility in the United States, you will have to comply with a new reporting rule on accidental chemical releases, on top of existing obligations related to OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard, the EPA’s Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), and other regulations.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) announced the approval of a final rule on accidental release reporting. The CSB says that the incident reports will provide the agency with key information important to the CSB in making prompt deployment decisions.
What Are the Requirements?
Under the CSB’s new rule, owners or operators of facilities would report within eight hours any incident that includes:
- An accidental release of a regulated or extremely hazardous substance
- Any of the following resulting from the release:
- A fatality
- A serious injury
- Substantial property damage
The CSB’s rule defines a “serious injury” as “any injury or illness if it results in death or inpatient hospitalization”.
A “substantial property damage” is defined as “property damage, at or outside the stationary source, estimated to be equal to or greater than $1,000,000.”
It’s also worth noting that the CSB defines an “extremely hazardous substance” as “any substance that may cause death, serious injury, or substantial property damages, including but not limited to any ‘regulated substance’ at or below any threshold quantity set by the EPA Administrator under 42 U.S.C. 7412(r)(5).”
The CSB’s definition of an extremely hazardous substance focuses on the consequences of a substance when it is accidentally released, alone or in combination with other substances, not on specific properties (e.g. flammability, toxicity, corrosivity, etc.) or whether the substance is listed as a hazardous substance by another rule, although such regulatory lists provide “useful guidance” as to what is an extremely hazardous substance for purposes of the CSB’s definition, the agency says.
The incident report would include the following:
- Name and contact information of the owner/operator
- Name and contact information of the person making the report
- Location information and facility identifier
- Approximate time of the release
- Brief description of the release
- An indication whether a fire, explosion, death, serious injury, or property damage occurred
- Name of the material(s) involved in the release, CAS number(s), or other appropriate identifiers
- Whether the release resulted in an evacuation order impacting members of the general public
The CSB says that it will proactively disclose initial incident information at least once per year.
The rule will be effective 30 days after its publication date in the Federal Register.
Are Eight Hours Enough?
When the rule was first proposed in December 2019, the CSB had intended that an accidental release report be submitted within four hours. But many negative comments were received. Would all the information about an accidental release be known within four hours?
As a result, the CSB extended the timeframe to eight hours. The agency says, “with the increase in the reporting time to eight hours, the owner/operator should have ample time to learn about such a release even in a remote part of the source.” The CSB also emphasizes that the revised eight-hour limit matches OSHA’s eight-hour requirement for reporting fatalities.
If you’re concerned that eight hours may not be enough, consider the use of a mobile app to capture information about events directly from the field. If smartphones and tablets are not permitted on-site, check if your employer allows instead the use of industrial, rugged mobile devices that are designed using intrinsically safe or explosion-proof protection methods.