US CSB to vote on disputed worker-fatigue recommendation

18 March 2013 22:36  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has scheduled a meeting for 24 April to consider and vote on a disputed worker-fatigue prevention recommendation made by two committees following the 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas, the CSB announced on Monday.

At issue before the board will be recommendation RP 755, with the CSB staff saying the recommendation makes a contribution to chemical safety by explicitly stating that “workplace fatigue is a risk to safe operations” and suggesting measures to manage fatigue risks, according to the CSB meeting announcement.

However, the CSB staff determined that RP 755 does not fully meet the intent of the CSB’s recommendation in “multiple important aspects”, according to the announcement, and the staff urged the board to designate the status of RP 755 as “Open-Unacceptable Action” and for further improvements to be made to the standard.

Following the BP refinery explosion, which resulted in 15 deaths and 180 injuries, a CSB investigation determined that worker fatigue played a critical role in the tragedy.

The CSB recommended that the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the United Steelworkers union (USW) jointly develop guidelines for fatigue prevention, along with the participation of other relevant stakeholders.

But the USW dropped out of the process in 2009, protesting what it said was an imbalance in the number of management members on the committees compared with union and other representatives.

The API continued on with its work, and RP 755 was developed in 2010 under the procedures established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

But according to a 10-page draft summary of the CSB staff’s evaluation of RP 755, the recommendation was not an effective consensus process due to the withdrawal of the union and therefore does not constitute a tool that multiple stakeholders in the industry can “own”. There also was limited direct participation by members of other sectors outside of the refinery and petrochemical industries, the staff said.

The CSB staff also found that RP 755 makes use of the world “should” statements for management action instead of “shall”. Standard practice is for “shall” statements to be minimum expectations and “should” statements to be suggestions, the staff said in its evaluation.

Also, the CSB staff found that RP 755 places undue emphasis on “soft” or “personal” components of fatigue control, such as self-evaluation by employees, evaluation by supervisors and training and education, without supporting scientific evidence of their efficacy.

Finally, RP 755 calls for limits on hours and days at work, but the CSB staff said the limits are generally more permissive and less protective than those suggested by current scientific knowledge.

The CSB is encouraging public comment about RP 755 through 12 April.

Additional reporting by Al Greenwood

By: Jeremy Pafford
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