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Chemical and Oil Refineries Tackling Tough New OSHA Program Compliance

Written by Clint Mooney on May 22, 2018

Last March, OSHA introduced rigorous new inspection rules for chemical and oil refineries, with fines up to $12,471 per day for failure to comply. Refineries have been scrambling to understand the new requirements and be in 100% compliance when an OSHA inspector arrives.

Is your operation ready to go, or still struggling to sort through it all? Here’s a look at how the rules may impact your business, and how some companies are meeting the challenge by adopting new technology.

 

Safety Enforcement

If you’re wondering why OSHA needed to implement these new rules in the first place, you’re not alone. Many leaders in the chemical and oil industry questioned the rationale behind it.

OSHA explained their logic by pointing to 69 serious enforcement actions against chemical facilities and 24 against petroleum companies in the past 5 years. Each of these was considered a serious violation, and fines totaled more than $100,000 per incident.

Overall, OSHA issued a total of 727 violations during that time period, amounting to more than $3 million in fines for petrochemical companies. In plain language, OSHA thought the industry wasn’t taking safety seriously enough.

 

Is an Inspection Coming?

In the wake of the new rules, many companies have been left wondering if and when an inspector will show up at their doorstep. While it’s ultimately up to OSHA to decide, the likelihood for inspection depends on the following factors based on the language in the rules:

Category/region. OSHA has identified four target categories: employers with anhydrous ammonia as their principal highly hazardous chemical, refiners, chemical manufacturers, and others. Within each of OSHA’s regions, each category contains a core group of inspection targets.

Chemical quantities. Facilities that hold chemicals at quantities that are at or greater than the amount set forth in OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.119 are subject to inspection.

Previous citations. If your facility previously had a violation between January 1, 2000 and September 30, 2015, you’ll face stricter scrutiny.

Inspection history. Facilities that were already inspected within the past 3 years are not subject to new inspection.

 

How to Prepare

Even if your facility has been inspected recently and is unlikely to be chosen for a new inspection soon, it’s critical to meet the OSHA rules as quickly as possible. They were put into place for worker safety, public safety, and overall hazard management.

According to the National Law Review, the best way to protect your operation is to do all of the following things:

  • Review your OSHA citations from the past 6 years, which is the period inspectors are instructed to examine for hazards that still persist.
  • Examine connections between worker safety issues and environmental issues, because OSHA will be working closely with the EPA.
  • Address issues that may contribute to death or serious physical harm - the focus of the new OSHA rules.
  • Meet the new requirements for flawless piping and instrumentation diagrams, because an OSHA inspector will examine diagrams closely.
  • Have a skilled text editor read over everything, including your documented operating procedures, to ensure accuracy. Even a typo can result in a serious violation.

 

Help From a Tech Tool

Terrified yet? The new OSHA rules are pretty intimidating. With such a long checklist of things to accomplish, many companies are turning to software and tech tools for help.

FirstHand by Zeteky is a real-time hazard reporting app that allows chemical and oil workers to send immediate on-site safety alerts. Instead of using the traditional paper card system - which can take up to 10 days to solve a safety problem - your company can instantly route and address every issue, big and small.

FirstHand goes right to the core of the new OSHA rules: worker and work site safety. Click here to request a free demo.

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