Pending changes to EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) Rule

Visit BSI's Experts Corner: Home for insights from BSI’s practice directors and industry experts on digital trust, environmental, health, safety, security, and sustainability.

August 17, 2023 - In the first quarter of 2023, thirty chemical incidents were documented by the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters, resulting in 470 incidents since April 2020. While the US Environmental Protection Agency's Risk Management Program (RMP) rule has helped reduce the severity and number of catastrophic events, the ongoing complexities and risks within the chemical industry have limited its effectiveness. Recent events including a Norfolk Southern freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, underscore the necessity for further actions to protect both the environment and nearby communities.

Organizations that manufacture, store, or handle highly hazardous chemicals have been experiencing compliance uncertainty regarding planned modifications to the EPA’s RMP rule. However, after several rounds of legislative action, lawsuits, and rulemaking, the EPA has proposed updates to the regulation under the title Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule, set to take effect in December 2023. These changes are designed to strengthen the existing RMP requirements and ensure greater protection for communities, first responders, and the environment.

The responsible management of chemicals is crucial to prevent incidents such as major fires, toxic chemical releases, and other dangerous events. A primary catalyst to the current proposed changes was a chemical explosion at a fertilizer storage facility in West TX, which fatally injured twelve volunteer firefighters, two members of the public, and caused hundreds of other injuries.

Hazardous chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers, are everywhere and that product familiarity means we don't necessarily associate them with risk or harm when they are handled incorrectly. The proposed rule intends to enlighten and empower industries and employees to take proactive steps in managing hazardous chemicals like these responsibly and prevent other catastrophic incidents from occurring. These changes aim to bridge the gap between the existing regulation's effectiveness, and the desired level of safety, to significantly reduce the severity and number of chemical-related incidents.

A wide array of industries, particularly those involved in the storage, handling, transfer, manufacturing, or processing of hazardous materials will fall under the purview of the amended rule. The rule's focus on transparency and responsibility will require organizations, big or small, to reevaluate their compliance practices, especially those that may lack mature systems for managing chemical hazards. It will force organizations to look outside of their day-to-day operations to see what the industry is doing and what needs to change in terms of chemical management.

While major chemical companies and refineries may need to make some adjustments, the biggest transformation is anticipated for small and medium-sized organizations. These entities often lack access to adequate resources and expertise to identify and handle chemical hazards effectively. The Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule will require these organizations to gain a deeper understanding of the potential risks their operations may pose and the best practices to manage those risks responsibly.

The rule emphasizes the importance of informed decision-making, encouraging businesses to collaborate with industry and regulatory bodies to adopt safer and more sustainable practices. By doing so, organizations will be better equipped to safeguard their operations and the well-being of their employees and the surrounding communities.

While the full impact of the rule is yet to be seen, its implementation is expected to create a transformative shift in the chemical industry, compelling businesses to be more proactive in their compliance efforts and fostering a safer and more responsible environment for all. As we eagerly await its publication, it is crucial for organizations to proactively prepare and embrace the changes that will ensure a safer future for everyone.

Keep your eyes peeled for Adrienne Young’s upcoming webinar, where she will be presenting more on this topic. For more insights on environmental, health, safety and well-being, digital trust, privacy and information security, supply chain, and sustainability topics that should be at the top of your organization's list, visit BSI's Experts Corner.