By Jess McCluer, Vice President of Safety and Regulatory Affairs
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed to revise its Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations to improve chemical process safety with a rule that primarily impacts agricultural retailers that handle fertilizers.
EPA did not include combustible dust as a chemical to be covered by the revised standard, consistent with NGFA’s recommendation. In response to EPA’s request for information on the topic in 2014, the NGFA strongly urged the agency not to add grain dusts, including combustible dusts, to the RMP list. NGFA also participated as a Small Entity Representative on the panel that met in October and November 2015 to advise the agency.
EPA’s proposed amendments are intended to improve existing risk management plan requirements to enhance chemical safety at RMP facilities. The RMP contains three elements: a hazard assessment, a prevention program and an emergency response program. The agency noted that in the last 10 years, more than 1,500 accidents were reported by RMP facilities. These accidents are responsible for causing nearly 60 deaths, some 17,000 people being injured or seeking medical treatment, almost 500,000 people being evacuated or sheltered-in-place, and with a total cost of more than $2 billion in property damage.
However, as the NGFA noted in comments submitted to the agency, the safety improvement record of the grain handling and processing industry indicates that more than 80 percent of the safety hazard associated with grain dust already has been eliminated.
In buttressing its assertion that additional regulation is not needed, the NGFA has cited the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) grain handling standard designed to mitigate potential fire and explosion hazards of grain dust. The OSHA standard has been in place for more than 30 years, and combined with proactive industry research, education and training programs, has played a role in helping significantly reduce the number of explosion incidents and resultant workplace injuries and deaths.
In 2003, OSHA completed a regulatory view of the grain handling standard and
determined there have been few fire- and explosion -related fatalities since the rule was issued. Therefore, the NGFA noted that EPA’s regulation of grain dust is unnecessary.
“At the very least, the effects of combustible dust are, as a practical matter, so limited to the area within a fence line that EPA should not adopt regulations that would severely overlap with OSHA’s effort,” NGFA noted.
Further, EPA could not identify how agricultural dust presents a hazard to surrounding communities outside of a facility. Grain dust explosions occur when handling or moving grain
within a facility, so the release of a combustible dust outside of a building means that it has escaped confinement and thus does not present a dust explosion hazard. “We are not aware of any deaths or injuries that have taken place within a community located directly outside of the facility as a result of any grain dust explosion,” NGFA noted in its comments to EPA. “There is overwhelming evidence supporting the OSHA grain handling standard’s effectiveness in preventing fires and explosions and resulting injuries during a time when grain handling capacity increased almost 60 percent, as demonstrated by OSHA’s ‘look-back’ review of 2003.”