Worker Protection:

Better Coordination Can Improve Safety at Hazardous Material Facilities

GAO-01-62: Published: Oct 26, 2000. Publicly Released: Oct 26, 2000.

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Work places that produce, use, store, or dispose of hazardous materials are considered to be among the most dangerous in the nation. Workers at these facilities face the potential for injury, chronic illness, or death, which can be caused simply by exposure to certain materials. Several agencies play a role in protecting workplace safety and health. This report discusses coordination of efforts by federal agencies to make the work place safer. GAO found that the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board play distinct roles in federal efforts to protect the safety and health of workers at hazardous materials work places. However, these agencies' functions partially overlap in several areas. These overlaps cause them to place duplicate requirements on employers. Although there is a good effort on the part of the agencies, more coordination is needed to eliminate the overlaps.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance worker protection and reduce the compliance burden associated with the hazardous material statutes and associated regulations addressed in this report, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of the Treasury, the EPA Administrator, and the CSB Chairman should work to establish a general protocol that sets forth the framework under which multiagency incident investigations shall be conducted.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to OSHA's Director of Enforcement, OSHA, along with the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) and EPA, are revising protocols for incident investigations. Also, OSHA is developing an accident investigation course that will help OSHA investigators better understand how to handle and look for criminal aspects of investigations. Once this course is piloted and offered to all OSHA investigators, it could be opened up to other agencies. The OSHA Director said these efforts should help the agencies better coordinate their incident investigations.

    Recommendation: To enhance worker protection and reduce the compliance burden associated with the hazardous material statutes and associated regulations addressed in this report, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of the Treasury, the EPA Administrator, and the CSB Chairman should work to establish a general protocol that sets forth the framework under which multiagency incident investigations shall be conducted.

    Agency Affected: National Response Team

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to OSHA's Director of Enforcement, OSHA, along with the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) and EPA, are revising protocols for incident investigations. Also, OSHA is developing an accident investigation course that will help OSHA investigators better understand how to handle and look for criminal aspects of investigations. Once this course is piloted and offered to all OSHA investigators, it could be opened up to other agencies. The OSHA Enforcement Director believes these efforts should help the agencies better coordinate their incident investigations.

    Recommendation: To enhance worker protection and reduce the compliance burden associated with the hazardous material statutes and associated regulations addressed in this report, the Secretary of Labor and the EPA Administrator should establish guidance that consolidates common training requirements into a unified training curriculum for hazardous material workers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA amended its worker training provisions for hazardous material facilities under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to refer to OSHA's HAZWOPER training regulations and, in so doing, adopt them in their entirety. The training provisions of EPA's Risk Management Plan rule (40 CFR 68) are identical to those in OSHA's Process Safety Management standard (29 CFR 1910.119), and the training provisions of EPA's National Contingency Plan requires compliance with these identical training requirements.

    Recommendation: To enhance worker protection and reduce the compliance burden associated with the hazardous material statutes and associated regulations addressed in this report, the Secretary of Labor and the EPA Administrator should establish guidance that consolidates common training requirements into a unified training curriculum for hazardous material workers.

    Agency Affected: Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA amended its worker training provisions for hazardous material facilities under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to simply refer to OSHA's HAZWOPER training regulations and, in so doing, adopt them in their entirety. The training provisions of EPA's Risk Management Plan rule (40 CFR 68) are identical to those in OSHA's Process Safety Management standard (29 CFR 1910.119), and the training provisions of EPA's National Contingency Plan requires compliance with these identical training requirements.

    Recommendation: To enhance worker protection and reduce the compliance burden associated with the hazardous material statutes and associated regulations addressed in this report, the National Response Team Chairman should consult with member agencies to identify and implement additional outreach mechanisms to alert employers to the option of preparing a consolidated emergency response plan, or One Plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of August 27, 2003, the National Response Team (NRT) has posted information regarding the "One Plan" on the EPA and NRT web sites. In addition, the Coast Guard prepared a memo to all hazardous material facilities that had not developed a "One Plan" reminding them of the advantages of doing so.

    Recommendation: To ensure that agencies adequately coordinate overlapping authority, procedures, or requirements for hazardous material facilities over the long term, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of the Treasury, the EPA Administrator, and the CSB Chairman should work to determine whether and to what extent Memorandums of Understanding are achieving their stated objectives and, where necessary, to establish other mechanisms that more effectively address employer burden and enhance worker protection, such as enforcement procedures that require coordination.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to OSHA's Director of Enforcement, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has contacted OSHA to request an assessment and revision of the Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between the agencies in order to further delineate and lay out respective agencies' responsibilities and roles. Although this process has not officially begun, OSHA and CSB have committed to revising the MOUs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that agencies adequately coordinate overlapping authority, procedures, or requirements for hazardous material facilities over the long term, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of the Treasury, the EPA Administrator, and the CSB Chairman should work to determine whether and to what extent Memorandums of Understanding are achieving their stated objectives and, where necessary, to establish other mechanisms that more effectively address employer burden and enhance worker protection, such as enforcement procedures that require coordination.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to OSHA's Director of Enforcement, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has contacted OSHA to request an assessment and revision of the MOUs between the agencies in order to further delineate and lay out respective agencies' responsibilities and roles. Although this process has not officially begun, OSHA and CSB have committed to revising the MOUs. OSHA will be contacting EPA for its inclusion in this effort.

    Recommendation: To ensure that agencies adequately coordinate overlapping authority, procedures, or requirements for hazardous material facilities over the long term, the Secretary of Labor and the EPA Administrator should enhance the accountability and effectiveness of the OSHA/EPA standing committee on the agencies' process safety management regulations by establishing a long-term strategy needed to address future coordination issues and a mechanism to obtain the views of employees and labor unions.

    Agency Affected: National Response Team

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to OSHA's Director of Enforcement, the OSHA/EPA standing committee now includes MSHA and NIOSH in order to have a greater impact on coordination and communication. However, the committee has not met in over 6 months and the Director did not know when it would meet next. The committee is not designed to be as formal as GAO wanted per its recommendations and none of the agencies have the resources or intention of changing how the committee operates.

    Recommendation: To ensure that agencies adequately coordinate overlapping authority, procedures, or requirements for hazardous material facilities over the long term, the Secretary of Labor and the EPA Administrator should enhance the accountability and effectiveness of the OSHA/EPA standing committee on the agencies' process safety management regulations by establishing a long-term strategy needed to address future coordination issues and a mechanism to obtain the views of employees and labor unions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Per a discussion with OSHA's Director of Enforcement, the OSHA/EPA standing committee now includes MSHA and NIOSH in order to have a greater impact on coordination and communication. However, the committee has not met in over 6 months and the Director did not know when it would meet next. The committee is not designed to be as formal as GAO wanted per its recommendations and none of the agencies have the resources or intention of changing how the committee operates.

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