From the Technical Director

When the tragedy involving the explosions of ammonium nitrate occurred at the West, Texas, fertilizer facility last year, much of the national conversation turned to how industries can work to better protect workers and the public at large. The loss of life and property was unfathomable to many, and public outcry has demanded a response. As a result, the Obama Administration has issued an Executive Order to improve chemical facility safety and security. The order directs OSHA, the Department of Homeland Security, the EPA and other agencies to examine their regulations and propose ways to improve safety. As a result, OSHA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit feedback from various industries on regulatory change proposals that could impact the ammonia refrigeration industry.

The IIAR welcomes the opportunity to weigh in on these proposals. Often rules changes are instigated by agencies and the only opportunity to comment on them is during official public review comment periods, when the conclusion often seems pre-determined. In this case, OSHA is requesting industry feedback before rules changes are drafted. It is a unique opportunity to help guide our destiny. When the RFI was issued, IIAR initially responded by notifying members with an email alert which included a link to the RFI and a request for feedback. Next IIAR developed a task force of talented members who are intimately familiar with ammonia refrigeration and PSM and RMP regulations and who represent highly recognizable companies and associations. Among this group are individuals representing facilities used in cold storage, distribution, meat and poultry production, and prepared foods production. Also participating are representatives of the Ammonia Safety Training Institute (ASTI), Refrigeration Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA), IIAR Board of Directors, and IIAR Standards, Safety and Code Committee members. This group has been reviewing the RFI line by line and has begun returning their comments. We have also engaged other associations such as the American Meat Industry, the Global Cold Chain Alliance and others to develop a concise and powerful response to the RFI. The deliverable will be a detailed letter to OSHA describing our concerns and listing the contributors and co-signers.

Generally speaking, the IIAR believes that the existing regulations are very comprehensive and quite effective. There are far fewer instances of ammonia refrigeration accidents than there were before PSM and RMP were implemented in the mid 1990’s. People are much more aware of the possible severe consequences of poor maintenance and procedures. The regulations have been responsible for the development of a multitude of associations, programs, schools, materials and businesses dedicated to making our industry safer…and they have worked. IIAR has served to provide educational information, guidelines and standards tailored specifically to our industry. Unfortunately there are too many companies and individuals who are not members or are generally not aware of the need for compliance with existing regulations and the realities of poor maintenance and operating procedures.

We also recognize that some industries are not held to such rigorous standards when handling ammonia. For example, accidents in transferring or transporting ammonia used in the agricultural industry can occur too often. When these accidents occur, any industry using ammonia is tainted by the bad publicity. We continue to encourage OSHA to place more emphasis on identifying those facilities and industries that are grossly negligent and to develop methods that will provide funds for more education and training purposes. A re-direction of focus and resources could lead to a better safety record for all facilities that use ammonia. An example might be to use money levied from fines toward the education of technicians and inspectors. Another concept is to use some resources for identifying facilities and industries which are not attempting to follow generally accepted safety standards and regulatory compliance.

We acknowledge that many of the ideas presented in the OSHA RFI are worthy of consideration. Many are actually actions that our industry already implements and are reflected in the IIAR PSM/RMP guidelines. An example of this is a periodic independent inspection of equipment. Another point with which we agree is the requirement to coordinate emergency planning with local emergency response authorities. For most facilities, this is already a requirement per the EPA’s Risk Management Program, and compliance might not impose any additional new measures. We agree that the PSM standard should define recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices (RAGAGEP) and that these should be periodically reviewed for applicability. This is a great opportunity to reinforce the position that regulators should review a facility against IIAR standards rather than reference those which are not applicable; for example American Petroleum Institute (API) standards. A common set of standards that are recognized by both regulators and industry would provide more consistency and greater safety in ammonia facilities.

As with any written set of standards, regulations or rules, the language of the intent can be the greatest barrier to implementing good ideas rather than imposing unreasonable expectations. While our industry may agree that a concept is worthy, we must be careful to consider what is written and how it will affect our industry. We shall continue to engage with OSHA and other agencies and work diligently to monitor and influence the crafting of any new language in the regulations. We ask that you support these efforts by encouraging IIAR membership and participation to anyone in the industry that benefits from our work.