Key highlights of the rule changes:

  • Enhanced Process Hazard Analyses (PHAs): High-risk industries must now include Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis (STAA) in their PHAs, assess risks of regulated substances, explore safer alternatives, and adopt preventive measures, including Inherently Safer Technologies and Designs (IST/ISD). This is applicable to Program 3 NAICS 324 and 325 processes. The PHA shall also consider natural hazards and climate change risks as well.
  • Third-party Compliance Audits: Compliance audit must be done by a third-party for facilities that had RMP-reportable release and perform root cause analyses for past accidents. The rule allows for representative sampling in triennial audits.
  • Increased Employee Participation: The rule mandates detailed employee involvement in safety processes, including options for anonymous reporting, “stop work” procedures, and requires training on participation plans.
  • Strengthened Emergency Preparedness and Response: Specifies the need for public disclosure protocols and the establishment of a community notification system for chemical releases, improving communication with local responders.
  • Broadened Process Safety Information Access: Requires facilities to provide chemical hazard information, including accident history and emergency response details, to the public living, working, spending significant time within a six-mile radius in at least two (2) common language used in the community.

On March 1, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule, marking a pivotal moment in chemical safety regulations. This final rule represents a significant update to the Clean Air Act (CAA) Risk Management Program (RMP) and introduces comprehensive changes designed to improve accident prevention, emergency preparedness, and the public’s access to information about regulated chemical substances. The Final Rule, while drawing parallels with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Process Safety Management (PSM) program, distinguishes itself by placing a stronger focus on the health of the community and the environmental impact. This development is the culmination of a process that spanned three decades, during which nearly 60,000 public comments were received, reflecting the rule’s importance and the public’s interest in its formulation. It applies to 11,740 facilities, including chemical plants, warehouses, and storage facilities, showcasing its extensive reach. According to EPA officials, an estimated 131 million people live within 3 miles of a facility governed by this rule, underscoring its significance in enhancing community safety and reducing the risks associated with chemical accidents.

The formulation of the U.S. EPA’s Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule was influenced by recognizing gaps in existing safety regulations, highlighted by several catastrophic incidents. A notable example occurred in 2019, as cited by the EPA Press Office, with an explosion and fire at the TPC Group facility in Port Neches, Texas. This event led to the evacuation of approximately 50,000 people, marking the largest evacuation in response to a chemical incident in U.S. history, and caused $153 million in offsite property damage. The incident underscored the critical need for enhanced safety measures. 

The 2019 TPC Group explosion in Port Neches, Texas, highlighted critical safety gaps, underscoring the necessity of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule. This rule mandates facilities in sectors like petroleum refineries and chemical plants to conduct Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis (STAA) as part of their Process Hazard Analysis (PHA), aiming to identify and mitigate risks through less hazardous alternatives and preventive measures. It also requires third-party audits following significant incidents, enhanced employee participation in safety processes, and increased public disclosure of chemical hazard information. Additionally, the rule emphasizes the importance of considering natural hazards and power loss in risk assessments. Had these measures been in place, the TPC Group might have been compelled to adopt preventive safety measures, potentially averting the disaster and its extensive impact on the community.

The Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule’s introduction, in response to incidents like the TPC Group explosion, brings forth a suite of critical safety enhancements. Key Provisions of the final rule are as follows:

Enhanced Process Hazard Analyses (PHAs)

  • Mandates facilities in high-risk industries with elevated accident rates, such as petroleum refineries, hydrofluoric acid and chemical manufacturing, to incorporate STAA within their PHA.
  • Requires a thorough assessment of risks associated with regulated substances, exploration of less hazardous alternatives, and the adoption of preventive measures.
  • Specific facilities must conduct practicability assessments for Inherently Safer Technologies and Designs (IST/ISD), ensuring the implementation of recommended safety measures.  Facilities in these three categories must carry out IST/ISD analyses. This means they need to put in place at least one safety measure—either a passive measure, an active measure that’s just as effective, or a procedural control—after each STAA, as long as these measures are reasonable to implement.
  • This process is akin to the use of the Hierarchy of Controls (HCA) offered by Saltegra Consulting, emphasizing a systematic approach to minimizing risks through various levels of preventive strategies.
  • The regulation stipulates that the latest Recognized and Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practices (RAGAGEP) must be considered when conducting PHAs. 
  • Emphasizes the need for regulated facilities to evaluate the risks of natural hazards and climate change impacts, including potential loss of power during hazard analyses.
  • The final rule mandates employee involvement in addressing findings and recommendations from PHAs, requiring consultation with employees familiar with the covered process for effective implementation of safety recommendations

Third-Party Compliance Audits (CA)

  • Following an RMP-reportable release, facilities are required to undergo third-party audits for their next scheduled triannual compliance audit.
  • It is now required to perform a root cause analysis incident investigation for facilities that have experienced a prior accident.
  • Recommendations from these audits must be justified within the facility’s RMP plans, with reports directly provided to the board of directors or equivalent governance committee.
  • In the previous ruling, “each covered process” was required to be audited, but the final rule now permits representative sampling of covered process units for the triennial compliance audit, simplifying the process.
  • The final rule requires employee involvement in addressing findings and recommendations from compliance audits and incident investigations, obliging facility owners/operators to consult with knowledgeable employees on implementing evaluation recommendations and to detail employee participation in their plans.

Increased Employee Participation (EP) and Training (TRN)

  • The final rule mandates that employee participation plans include options for anonymously reporting RMP-reportable releases or noncompliance, information on “stop work” procedures, and requires owners/operators to provide training on these participation plans.

Strengthened Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR)

  • Mandates the creation of public disclosure protocols at specified RMP facilities and the sharing of data related to accidental releases, ensuring timely sharing of chemical release information with local responders.
  • Mandates the establishment of a community notification system to warn the community of any impending chemical release.

Process Safety Information (PSI)

  • Facilities must make chemical hazard information available upon request to anyone within a six-mile radius of the facility, offering it in at least two major community languages besides English. 
  • This information includes details on regulated substances, the facility’s accident history, its emergency response program, and emergency response exercises.

The compliance deadline is set at three years, with estimated annualized costs ranging from $260 to $300 million. These improvements aim to mitigate the risks associated with chemical accidents, enhance community safety, and ensure a more proactive approach to chemical hazard management.