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Process Safety, Railroads and Senate Bill S.576
The Start of Legislation
The process safety management discipline is mature. The key regulation in the United States, 29 CFR 1910.119 – Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals, was promulgated in the year 1992 — before many of today’s process safety professionals were born.
In the words of the proverb,
There is always news about safety, and some of that news will be bad.
Nevertheless, in the traditional process industries such as petrochemical plants and oil refineries, changes and developments to do with process safety are mostly organic — there have been few radical changes in recent decades.
However, there are industries and other disciplines where the principles of process safety still have only limited application and yet where there is a clear need. One of those areas is our response to climate change — which is why this site is called ‘Net Zero by 2050’. Another industry that does not use process safety principles as much as it might is rail transportation, at least in the United States.
At this site we have discussed a number of serious railroad accidents involving highly hazardous chemicals. Recent posts include:
Tank Car Safety, and
Some of these recent incidents, particularly the disastrous fire and release of toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, have drawn the attention of lawmakers. Hence, Senator Brown Sherrod (D-OH) introduced Bill S. 576 — The Railway Safety Act of 2023 — in March of this year. The subtitle of the Bill is,
To enhance safety requirements for trains transporting hazardous materials, and for other purposes.
Whether the bill will become law remains to be seen. But the fact that co-sponsors are bipartisan is an encouraging sign.
From a process safety point of view, paragraph (b) of the Bill contains some interesting language.
(b) Requirements.—The regulations issued pursuant to subsection (a) shall require shippers and rail carriers—
(1) to provide advance notification and information regarding the transportation of hazardous materials described in subsection (a) to each State emergency response commissioner, the tribal emergency response commission, or any other State or tribal agency responsible for receiving the information notification for emergency response planning information;
(2) to include, in the notification provided pursuant to paragraph (1), a written gas discharge plan with respect to the applicable hazardous materials being transported; and
(3) to reduce or eliminate blocked crossings resulting from delays in train movements.
Sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) are explicitly to do with process safety. (How they intend to implement and enforce sub (3) will be intriguing.)
As time permits, we will explore Bill S. 576 in future posts. In particular, we will try to align elements of process safety management with sections of this Bill. But at least the train is moving.
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