NIOSH has backed away from comments it provided to  OSHA on how to expand OSHA’s process safety management  (PSM) standard, saying it did so based on a re-evaluation of  the science underpinning its earlier recommendations.

OSHA issued a public call for comments last December  seeking suggestions for upgrading its PSM standard and  preventing major chemical accidents.  The request followed  an explosion and fire at a Texas fertilizer facility in April 2013  that claimed 15 lives and resulted in millions of dollars in  property damage.  OSHA’s initiative was in response to a  presidential Executive Order for federal agencies to develop  better ways to prevent chemical accidents.

On March 6, NIOSH made three recommendations in  comments it submitted to OSHA.  One suggestion called  for OSHA to include a “safety case” approach in its PSM  standard.  The safety case regime, NIOSH said, is  “proactive” and “performance-based,” requiring employers  to define appropriate controls for safe operation, evaluate  their adequacy for the facility and decide how to  implement and maintain them.    “The employer is responsible for ensuring safe operation of  the facility and a license is required to operate the  hazardous process/facility,” wrote NIOSH, which referenced  a publication about the safety case system in Australia.   One provision of the safety case approach requires  employers to implement safer designs, and NIOSH  recommended that as well.  The organization called  designing out risks “[o]ne of the best ways to prevent and  control occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities.” It  pointed out that NIOSH leads a national initiative called  Prevention through Design.  

However, NIOSH submitted a second letter to the OSHA  comment docket saying it wished to substitute new  comments for the ones it had submitted earlier.  The  revision retained a recommendation for a qualified person  to be a part of the team conducting process hazard  analysis, but stripped out the safety case and inherently  safer design suggestions.

The second letter was dated June 6, which was more than  two months after the March 31 close of OSHA’s comment  period and the day a White House multi-agency federal  task force made public its chemical safety and emergency  response recommendations.

The substitution “was based on a re-evaluation of the  evidentiary basis foundation for the March 6, 2014  comments,” Paul A. Schulte, Director of NIOSH’s Education  and Information Division, said in a cover letter.  Schulte told  the Charleston Gazette “a variety of stakeholders” had told  NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard at scientific conferences of  their concerns about the March recommendations.  

“The director called for a re-review of what we had said,”  Schulte told the newspaper. “Upon looking at it further, while  there are advocates for those positions, we didn’t see that  there was actually a scientific basis that attested they were  more effective than what was currently being done. We  didn’t want to be in a position of recommending something  to OSHA that didn’t have a good evidentiary basis.”

One advocate favoring the safety case approach is the U.S.  Chemical Safety Board (CSB).  However, the task force  dismissed CSB’s proposal, saying that “nearly all comments  received regarding the adoption of the safety case regulatory  model were negative,” according to the newspaper.