Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

OSHA: Is It Time To Update The Process Safety Management Standard?

Posted by Jon Elliott on Thu, Jan 09, 2014 Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Standard for Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (usually referred to as “PSM”) in 1992, requires extensive risk assessments and reduction efforts by facilities where a significant incident involving these chemicals might have catastrophic consequences. OSHA adopted PSM in 1992, and has made only minor technical revisions in the ensuing two decades. However, several federal and state initiatives are developing recommendations and may lead to significant changes in 2014.

Who is Subject to PSM?

The PSM Standard applies to facilities with any process that manages highly hazardous chemicals, in quantities that meet or exceed OSHA’s compliance threshold quantity. These criteria are met at many petroleum refineries, chemical plants, explosives manufacturing operations, and other industrial facilities. PSM defines these terms as follows:

  • Process -- “[a]ny activity involving a highly hazardous chemical including any use, storage, manufacturing, handling, or the onsite movement of any of the preceding substances such as chemicals, or combination of these activities.” A process also includes “any group of vessels which are interconnected and separate vessels which are located in such a way that a highly hazardous chemical could be involved in a potential release....”

  • Highly hazardous chemical -- 

    • 129 specific substances listed because of toxic, reactive, flammable, or explosive properties, and in quantity exceeding its specified threshold quantity (TQ). TQs vary from as low as 100 pounds for toxic gases such as arsine, to 15,000 pounds for chemicals such as methyl chloride.

    • A “Category 1 flammable gas” or a flammable liquid with a flashpoint below 100 °F “on site in one location,” in a quantity of 10,000 pounds.

    • Manufacture of any quantity of explosives or pyrotechnics.

How Do Facilities Comply With PSM?

The PSM requires covered employers to do the following:

  • Compile written process safety information on chemical hazards and process technology and equipment. 

  • Perform process hazard analysis to identify, evaluate, and control the hazards. Analyses must:

    • Use appropriate methodology(ies) (e.g., What-If and/or Checklist, Hazard and Operability Study (HAZOP), Failure Mode and Effects Analysis, Fault Tree Analysis).

    • Address the following: process hazards; any previous incident with a “likely potential for catastrophic consequences”; applicable engineering and administrative controls, and their interrelationships; consequences of failure of controls, including qualitative evaluation of possible safety and health effects; evaluate facility siting; and human factors.

    • Use a process hazard analysis team with appropriate engineering and process knowledge, including at least one person familiar with each specific process and one familiar with the analytical methodology.

  • Establish a framework for process hazard analysis, including a system to address the analysis team’s findings and recommendations.

  • Implement written operating procedures, including startup, temporary, normal, and emergency operations, normal and emergency shutdown, and startup after shutdowns; and safe work practices to control hazards during such operations as lockout/tagout, confined space entry, opening equipment and piping, and controlling worker access.

  • Provide employee training.

  • Inform contractors of the potential hazards.

  • Perform pre-startup safety reviews for any new or modified process that changes information required by PSM.

  • Ensure the mechanical integrity of critical process equipment.

  • Issue “hot work” permits for work, such as welding, that may cause ignition near a covered process.

  • Establish written “Management of Change” procedures.

  • Investigate every incident that could reasonably have resulted in a catastrophic release as promptly as possible (no more than 48 hours), prepare a report with findings and recommendations for any appropriate changes, and address all such findings and recommendations.

  • Implement emergency planning.

  • Perform compliance audits at least every three years.

  • Involve employees in these activities, and provide information and training.

  • Establish required record keeping.

What Changes Are Under Consideration, And By Whom?

Despite PSM requirements, incidents continue to occur. One highly-publicized pipe failure at a Chevron refinery in Richmond California in 2012 narrowly avoided killing 19 workers, and the resulting plume did lead 15,000 nearby residents to seek medical attention. Routine investigations by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA, which administers the state’s PSM), and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) found failings at the refinery, but also identified shortcomings in PSM and other safety and response regulations. In addition, two broader investigations looked at regulatory issues:

  • California created an Interagency Working Group on Refinery Safety, led by CalOSHA and seven other agencies. The Working Group recommended creation of a permanent Oil Refinery Task Force to improve coordination among worker safety, public safety and environmental agencies. It also recommended enhancements to California’s PSM standard, to require refineries to:

    • Implement “inherently safer systems” to the greatest extent feasible.

    • Perform periodic safety culture assessments.

    • Ensure adequate damage mechanism hazard reviews in Process Hazard Analyses.

    • Complete root cause analysis after significant accidents or releases.

    • Explicitly account for human factors.

  • CSB expanded on its mandated incident investigation, and issued a further draft report in December 2013 identifying shortcomings in PSM and other programs. CSB critiques PSM as an “activity based” program in which regulated entities comply by conducting required activities (notably Process Hazard Analysis and Management of Change), but without consistent “goal based” requirements to reliably reduce hazards and ensure ongoing implementation. 

Separately, in August 2013, President Obama issued Executive Order 13650 (Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security) to improve chemical facility safety in coordination with owners and operators. The subsequent Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group (Working Group) – co-chaired by the Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Labor – leads the effort to implement the Executive Order and improve coordination and regulation of chemical facilities across the various agencies and Federal, state, local, and first responder communities. I wrote about these efforts here (

While there’s never a guarantee that legislators or regulators will respond to recommendations, momentum seems to be building to enhance PSM and related safety programs – not just for oil refineries but for other facilities using potentially catastrophic chemicals. If you’re involved with such a facility, this is a good time to consider whether your safety and compliance programs meet the current minimum standards, already do more, or might be enhanced to do more.

Self-Assessment Checklist

Does the organization manage chemicals that could produce catastrophic damage in major incidents?

    • Is it regulated by PSM, as administered by OSHA or a delegated state agency?

    • Is it regulated by the Clean Air Act’s Accidental Release Prevention (ARP) program, as administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or a delegated state agency?

    • Is it regulated by the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, administered by the US Department of Homeland Security?

Is the organization’s program integrated, to incorporate requirements and perspectives required by all applicable regulatory programs?

Is the organization’s program based on specific goal based standards, to provide clearer guidance to safety activities?

Where Can I Go For More Information?

  • CSB’s draft report on PSM revisions for refineries 

  • CalEPA draft report on PSM revisions in California 

  • Executive Order No. 13650 (8/1/13), as published in the Federal Register (8/7/13) 

  • OSHA’s PSM webpage 

  • EPA’s ARP program webpage

  • DHS’ CFATS program webpage 

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

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About the Author Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 16 existing products,including Workplace Violence Prevention: A Practical Guide to Security on the Job and Directors' and Officers' Liability.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

photo credit: ssalomons via photopin cc

Tags: Employer Best Practices, Health & Safety, OSHA, Training, Environmental, EHS, Hazcom