5 things you should know about OSHA’s latest PSM interpretation

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On June 8, 2015, OSHA issued a formal Letter of Interpretation regarding the application of Recognized and Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practices (RAGAGEP) to the Process Safety Management (PSM) Standard 29 CFR 1910.119.  The requirements to comply with RAGAGEP are located in subpart (d) Process Safety Information and subpart (j) Mechanical Integrity. The new information is not a change in the PSM Standard, but a change in how OSHA interprets and intends to enforce the Standard.  Because RAGAGEP by its nature is somewhat of a moving target, the OSHA interpretation is going to have an impact on how industry complies with PSM.  There have also been concerns on the part of industry that OSHA is overreaching its authority and effectively changed the standard without formal rulemaking process.

Here is a link the OSHA Letter of Interpretation.


Some of the more significant clarifications on how OSHA intends to interpret RAGAGEP are:

1. Published consensus documents have long been accepted by industry as RAGAGEP. Examples of ‘consensus’ RAGAGEP are ASME’s Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, ANSI Piping Code, API’s Recommended Practice on relief valve design, and ISA’s standard on Safety Instrumented Systems. However, OSHA now asserts that published ‘non-consensus’ documents may be RAGAGEP.   My concern here is technical papers, pamphlets, and the guidelines series books from CCPS, all of which contain a wealth of good ideas or considerations; however, these do not reflect consensus of a committee of wide range of industry representatives.  These sources may represent an individual, an organization, or small select committee assigned to oversee authoring of a publication. Guidance from consensus standards organizations such ANSI, API, ASME, and ISA etc. have rigorous protocols to ensure that minimum requirements reflect a consensus of experts before it is published.  Non-consensus documents are not necessarily vetted by a broad technical committee that ensures wide agreement in technical practices before publishing. You should expect OSHA to try to cite industry using non-consensus

2. Employers were previously in compliance with RAGAGEP if they developed their own internal standards that were technical sound and justifiable.  OSHA states it will no longer accept these.  A company that does not comply with applicable published RAGAGEP will be open to enforcement action.   For example, a company that uses only an internal standard that does not incorporate requirements of published RAGAGEP will now need to reconsider that position or face enforcement actions.  An example would be a company that does not use concepts in and requirements of ANSI/ISA 84 as the basis of design for safety critical interlocks. Note; OSHA recognizes that internal standards are often used to describe how company-specific procedures that meet or exceed with RAGAGEP. OSHA’s position is those are acceptable, as long as they still conform with RAGAGEP requirements.

3. No longer is it acceptable to implement only portions of a published RAGAGEP.  OSHA asserts that if it applies, then the whole of the document applies. Here OSHA is giving deference to the writers of published RAGAGEP (typically standards committees) instead of deference to a company’s interpretation of how it applies to their operations.  This does not mean ‘shoulds’ become ‘shalls’; but you need to implement all the ‘shalls’ within a published source of RAGAGEP.

4. Moreover, OSHA intends to cite a company if it ignores ‘shoulds’ in RAGAGEP without sound technical justification. Do your internal practices only address the ‘shalls’? If so, you should be prepared to have OSHA’s inspectors probe as to why you didn’t implement the ‘shoulds’ that are contained within Normative parts of RAGAGEP.

5. OSHA expects companies to document that covered process equipment and equipment whose operation could affect that process equipment complies with RAGAGEP.   The underlined phrase is somewhat of a surprise here because it does not show up in the PSM standard itself. The Standard only speaks to “covered process equipment”.   Do you document how your instrument air system complies with RAGAGEP? … cooling water system ? This may have a significant impact on the extents of a covered process. I would expect this one will be challenged by industry.

Author note: CCPS indicates on their website that “All CCPS books are written by technical committees of experts in process safety and represent decades of experience and learning. The publications are peer reviewed and provide technically sound concepts and guidelines in the areas of engineering and process safety”. I take no issue with that claim, and I believe their guidance is usually very technically sound. Application of those guidelines is very helpful for some companies. However, it is not developed under standards for gaining industry consensus. For more information about consensus standards process, see the American National Standards Institute. ANSI’s standards development process is “guided by the Institute’s cardinal principles of consensus, due process and openness and depends heavily upon data gathering and compromises among a diverse range of stakeholders.”

By |2017-06-25T19:58:12+00:00September 11th, 2015|Author, Kevin Mitchell, News|Comments Off on 5 things you should know about OSHA’s latest PSM interpretation