On June 9, 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) published two interpretations related to process safety management (“PSM”). In this publication, OSHA defined the term Recognized and Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practice, or “RAGAGEP.” OSHA also abandoned the use of the term “commercial grade” when determining the applicability of the PSM Standard to solutions of materials listed in Appendix A of the PSM Standard for which no specific concentrations are already listed. These interpretations were circulated internally in memoranda from OSHA headquarters to OSHA regional offices and state plan designees. These changes come in the wake of President Obama’s August 2013 Executive Order, Exec. Order No. 13650, 3 C.F.R. 13650, following the April 17, 2013, ammonium nitrate explosion in West, Texas.

The term RAGAGEP currently appears in the PSM Standard in two places: (1) the Process Safety Information element, where it applies to the design, construction, and operation of equipment covered under the PSM Standard; and (2) the Mechanical Integrity (“MI”) element, where it applies to the inspection, testing, and preventive maintenance of equipment included in an MI program. OSHA stated in its interpretation that published and widely adopted codes of long-standing usage and published documents that follow the American National Standard Institute’s consensus standards qualify as RAGAGEPs. On the other hand, an employer’s selective application of individual provisions from multiple RAGAGEPs addressing similar hazards might be inappropriate. OSHA’s memo also clarified that the use of “shall” in the consensus standards reflects a mandatory minimum requirement, while “should” indicates an acceptable approach. The result is that internal procedures will only be treated as RAGAGEPs if no other RAGAGEP exists, or if the internal procedure is more stringent than the consensus standard.

Appendix A of the PSM Standard contains 126 chemicals that do not have published concentrations which trigger PSM coverage. Under the previous rules, the “commercial grade” of the chemical governed the concentration to use it. OSHA has now abandoned the commercial grade criteria and replaced it with the same 1 percent mixture rule and the de minimis 10 mmHg vapor pressure criteria adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency for the Risk Management Plan (“RMP”) Rule. As a result, the PSM Standard and the RMP Rule will be identical with respect to determining the applicability of the regulations for solutions and mixtures.

These changes are important considerations for any facility covered by the PSM Standard. The clarifications signify OSHA’s belief that these two issues are priorities, and that it will start enforcing the PSM Standard as consistent with these interpretations.