ASSE: OSHA discusses refining NEP audits

Some refineries and their contractors are receiving a high number of violations as a result of the National Emphasis Program (NEP), US Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials said June 29.

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO, June 30 -- Some refineries and their contractors are receiving a high number of violations as a result of the National Emphasis Program (NEP), US Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials said June 29.

OSHA officials spoke to a meeting of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) on the same day that US Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis addressed ASSE in an opening session. Solis assured ASSE members that OSHA is committed to workplace safety.

“Make no mistake about it, the Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business,” Solis said.

In a separate session later that day, Patrick Kapust, an OSHA safety and health specialist in general industry enforcement, discussed audit results from the refining NEP, launched in June 2007.

NEP involves detailed inspections of refiners and contractors (OGJ, Sept. 8, 2008, p. 21).

Refining NEP inspections
Kapust said 165 inspections had been done as of June 26, resulting in 681 violations of which 91% were serious, willful, or repeat violations. The refining NEP yielded an average 11.5 violations/inspection compared with a national NEP average of 3-3.1 violations/inspection for all industries.

“The current average penalty per serious violation is $3,469,” Kapust said of the refining NEP. Most of the violations involve process safety issues, he said although he could not immediately elaborate.

Previously, OSHA sent letters to refinery managers emphasizing the need to comply with all applicable OSHA standards, particularly the process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals (OGJ Online, June 24, 2009).

OSHA sent letters to more than 100 refineries, outlining compliance issues found under the refining NEP and urging refinery managers to comply with the process safety management standards. The standard requires employers to develop and incorporate comprehensive, site-specific safety management systems to reduce the risks of fatal or catastrophic incidents.

OSHA’s acting director
Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor Jordan Barab told ASSE participants that OSHA’s standards need to be updated because most standards were implemented in the 1960s and the early 1970s.

He noted current laws make it a lengthy, cumbersome process to update OSHA standards. “OSHA standards are the floor. They are the minimum,” Barab said. “We certainly have no problem with people going beyond standards.”

OSHA is working on vigorous enforcement efforts, and OSHA officials along with Congress are evaluating the current penalty structure for companies found in violation of OSHA standards, he said.

"We're looking at what we can do under the law to increase those penalties,” he said.

Currently, the average nationwide penalty across all industries for an OSHA violation is about $900, he said. “This doesn’t provide much of an incentive for a company not to cut corners.”

Upon being asked when a permanent OSHA director might be named, Barab said it’s unlikely that it would be done before September or October. He noted that no nominations have been made yet.

Meanwhile, he said OSHA is going “full speed ahead even though I’m acting director.”

Barab joined OSHA as deputy assistant Labor secretary for occupational safety and health as well as acting assistant secretary on Apr. 13. He previously served as special assistant to the assistant Labor secretary for OSHA during 1998 to 2001.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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