US CSB says refiners should bear safety burden, not states

16 December 2013 23:31  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) on Monday called for “a fundamental change” in refinery safety regulations in California and nationwide, saying that the burden for reducing accident risks should be shifted from regulators to operators.

In a draft report on lessons learned from the August 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery at Richmond, California, that sent more than 15,000 area residents to hospitals, the CSB said it is recommending “substantial changes to the way refineries are regulated in California”.

The draft recommendations urge the California state government to “replace the current patchwork of largely reactive and activity-based regulations with a more rigorous, performance-based regulatory regime”, an approach used in several European nations and known as the “safety case system”.

CSB said that the safety case approach “requires companies to demonstrate to refinery industry regulators through a written ‘safety case report’ how major hazards are to be controlled and risks reduced to as low as reasonably practicable” or ALARP.

“To ensure that a facility’s safety goals and programmes are accomplished, a safety case report generated by the company is rigorously reviewed, audited and enforced by highly trained regulatory inspectors,” the CSB said.

The board’s draft report said that the safety case approach “is more than a written document; rather, it represents a fundamental change by shifting the responsibility for continuous reductions in major accident risks from regulators to the company”.

The CSB recommendations follow the board’s initial April 2013 report on the Chevron refinery fire. That report said that Chevron “repeatedly failed over a 10-year period to apply inherently safer design principles and upgrade piping in its crude processing unit, which was extremely corroded and ultimately ruptured on 6 August 2012”.

CSB chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said that the board’s draft recommendations indicate that “refinery safety rules need to focus on driving down risk to the lowest practicable level, rather than on completing required paperwork”.

He said he was confident that California would “embrace the recommendations in our draft report and carry them forward to implement policy change”.

When the CSB refinery safety recommendations are adopted in California, he added, they “could serve as a model for the nation”.

The board’s recommendations are open to public comment until 3 January, and the draft report will be considered for formal adoption by the CSB at a meeting in Richmond on 15 January.

The full text of the CSB draft report and recommendations is available on the board’s website, and comments may be e-mailed to the board.

By: Joe Kamalick
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