Guest Column | May 15, 2014

Occupational Safety And Utility Compliance: 7 Tips For Risk Management Program Compliance

Sheldon Primus

By Sheldon Primus


The EPA’s Risk Management Program is a necessary but daunting regulation that imposes strict adherence and heavy consequences for non-compliance. These tips are designed to keep utilities safe in every sense.

Program Overview

The Risk Management Program (RMP) is a U.S. EPA initiative that tracks, audits, and regulates facilities with extremely hazardous substances (EHSs) and toxic chemicals over a certain quantity, including Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or “Superfund”) sites. Congress enacted the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) in 1986 as a reaction from the 1984 Bhopal, India accident where a Union Carbide chemical plant had a release of methyl isocyanate.

This incident caused thousands to die and many injuries in India, and six months later a chemical release of similar type occurred in West Virginia (EPA, 2012). Therefore, Congress moved under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) by issuing Title 40 to create ways of protecting the American public. The RMP can be found in the Clean Air Programs section (40 CFR Part 68). You can find specific chemicals on “The List of Lists” for regulated chemicals.

Each owner/operator has a duty to be responsible for the safe handling, storage, and use of regulated hazardous substances under The General Duty Clause (GDC) Section 112 (r)(1). This GDC covers “any stationary source producing, processing, handling, or storing regulated substances or other extremely hazardous substances” (EPA, 2009). The RMP sets a framework for an accident prevention program, reporting system for releases, establishing program levels, and compliance structuring (EPA, 2009). 

Having an all-inclusive policy for all facilities is not a practical way of having a RMP on a national level. Therefore, the EPA has divided systems into programs levels to better “match their size and the risks they pose” (EPA, 2009). The Program Levels are as follows:

Program 1:

A Program 1 facility is one that would not affect the public on its very worst day (as noted in a worst-case scenario modeling) and did not have an accident within the past five years.

Program 2:

A facility not eligible for Program 1 or subject to Program 2 is put into Program 3 status. These facilities have additional hazard assessment, emergency response, and management requirements (EPA, 2009).

Program 3:

Program 3 status is for facilities that do not meet Program 1 requirements and are not subject to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Process Safety Management (PSM) standard under state or federal programs or classified in one of 10 specified industry codes from the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS). Level 3 programs must follow OSHA PSM standards because the RMP incorporates the PSM into its standard.

1. Know Your Deadlines

Drinking water and wastewater facilities have potential to have several substances regulated by the RMP and even OSHA PSM programs. Drinking water facilities (NAICS 22131) have 2,289 total facilities under the RMP, 108 accidents, 90 injuries, and $3,653,153 in property damage in the past five years (RTKNET, 2014). Wastewater facilities have 1,514 RMP facilities, 92 accidents, 70 injuries, and $5,179,500 in property damages in the past five years (RTKNET, 2014).

In 2009, the RMP system was updated by EPA and all current facilities under the program had to resubmit their programs for approval. This program revision and resubmittal must be done every five years or within six months of any changes in the quantity stored, processes, handling, or any aspect of the program, in order to maintain compliance with 40 CFR 68.36.

Compliance audits must be conducted and be certified every three years to evaluate whether the program, procedures, and practices are adequate to comply with the rule. For an audit to comply with the 40 CFR 68.58 rule, the auditor must be knowledgeable of the process and give a written report of the findings. Furthermore, a compliance schedule for deficiencies must be established and the owner has to retain the two most recent audits.

2. Hazard Reviews

Conducting an accurate Offsite Consequence Analysis (OCA) will produce two scenarios: a worst-case and an alternate-case scenario. Think of the worst-case scenario as who in the general public will be affected if there is a release of chemicals from the facility. Quantity of release, wind direction, and other variables should be carried out to its end point. A circle is drawn around the facility to the endpoint distance in all directions to ascertain what public receptors or environmental receptors are in the “circle of death.” Worst-case scenarios are highly unlikely, but must be accounted for in your hazard determination.

Conversely, the alternate scenario is the most likely occurrence with a treatment facility. In the case of chlorine gas, when the operators change from an empty bank of cylinders to a full bank, some gas may escape the regulator or chlorine distribution system. The gas will be released into the room and in most cases not reach the operations control room before dissipation.

3. Operating Procedures

There are six phases to the operating procedures that must be effectively addressed. Detail each step and write a narrative as to what is involved in each step of the process. In addition, add the number of personnel needed, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that must be worn, and any other considerations for each of the following phases:

  • Normal start-up
  • Normal operations
  • Normal shutdown
  • Emergency shutdown and operations
  • Initial start-up
  • Temporary operations

4. Training

Training is an important criterion for this program because the utility staff is the first line of defense. 40 CFR 68.54 states that the owner or operator “MAY” certify in writing that the employee “has the required knowledge, skills, and abilities to safely carry out the duties and responsibilities as provided in the operating procedures” (EPA, 2014). This is not a requirement, but it’s a good practice to record refresher training, initial training, and annual training events.

With regulators, it didn’t happen unless it is documented in writing (with signatures from attendees). Refresher training SHALL be every three years or if there are changes in the program or process. It’s a good practice to document training with an exam to prove operator mastery of the program and process phases.

5. Maintenace

Maintaining mechanical integrity of the process systems is a must in 40 CFR 68.56. Training with regard to worker safety during maintenance of the components is a requirement for this section. Even the contractor must be trained as to the hazards surrounding the maintenance of the equipment. In addition, the equipment must be tested and inspected to ensure that they are within the recommendation of the manufacturer, industry standards and codes, and good engineering practices.

6. Compliance Audits Abatement

After an internal or external audit is complete, the process for abatement of deficiencies must be clear and specific. Each action item must be given to an accountable party for correction. It is not enough for the audit review team to tell the operator to fix the problem with no timeline for abatement. Here is a sample form for Action Item assignment with risk assessment and follow-up:

7. Incident Management

40 CFR 68.60 has a summary of how incident investigations should be conducted and recorded. However, prior to the investigation, make sure that in the event stage that all notifications are made to the National Response Center (NRC) and/or State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs).  When making the initial notification, have these items ready for the incident notification center:

  • The chemical name
  • An indication of whether the substance is extremely hazardous
  • An estimate of the quantity released into the environment
  • The time and duration of the release
  • Whether the release occurred into air, water, and/or land
  • Any known or anticipated acute or chronic health risks associated with the emergency and, where necessary, advice regarding medical attention for exposed individuals
  • Proper precautions, such as evacuation or sheltering in place
  • Name and telephone number of contact person (as quoted from EPA, 2014)

Written notification is required to local emergency response and the state emergency response entities as soon as practicable after the event. Other notification rules can be found in 40 CFR 355.40 to avoid penalties (40 CFR 355.50) that can be up to $25,000 for each violation, civil penalties up to $25,000 per day, and criminal penalties for up to two years imprisonment.

The RMP system is necessary to protect the surrounding community from extremely hazardous chemicals, but the regulations are very demanding. There has been a movement for utilities to replace the use of these chemicals where practical and appropriate. If you have an active RMP, then these 7 tips will help you meet or stay in compliance.