President Obama has issued an executive order on “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security” that establishes a chemical facility safety and security working group to oversee efforts to “further improve chemical facility safety and security in coordination with owners and operators.”
The working group is co-chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Secretary of Labor. It encourages development of a plan to support and work with state and local emergency responders and chemical facility owners and operators to identify ways to ensure that all impacted agencies and individuals have easy access to key information in a useable format, including by thoroughly reviewing categories of chemicals for which information is provided to first responders and the manner in which it is made available, so as to prevent, prepare for and respond to chemical incidents. Among other things, it also requires the members to identify ways to improve coordination among government agencies in response to chemical incidents and calls for improved training in response to such incidents.
The group also is working to deploy a pilot program to validate best practices and test new methods for federal “interagency collaboration regarding chemical facility safety and security.” The pilot program will include “innovative and effective” methods of collecting, storing and using facility information, stakeholder outreach, inspection planning and, as appropriate, joint inspection efforts. In addition, the group will devise standard operating procedures for a unified federal approach for identifying and responding to risks in chemical facilities; incident reporting and response procedures; enforcement; and collection, storage and use of facility information.
Stakeholders will be invited to identify and share their best practices for reducing safety and security risks in the production and storage of potentially harmful chemicals.
“While the causes of each chemical incident are unique and require careful investigation to help ensure similar incidents do not reoccur, common to every incident are the often overlapping and sometimes confusing layers of regulatory responsibility over facilities where potentially harmful chemicals are produced or stored. Requiring the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to lead an effort to improve coordination and work together to improve safety and security with a specific timeline of expectations is the best approach in addressing a significant threat to the American people,” says Kathy A. Seabrook CSP, CMIOSH, EurOSHM, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers.