The Trump administration recently published its 2019 budget proposal, which includes deep spending cuts totaling hundreds of billions of dollars. The budget request also calls for the elimination of several federal oversight bodies, including the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, according to Bloomberg. Created in 1990 as part of the Clean Air Act, the independent watchdog leverages $11 million in annual funding to investigate industrial incidents stemming from the mismanagement of caustic chemicals. While the elimination of the CSB seems, on the surface, an ideal development for industrial organizations, some industry leaders and workplace safety experts have expressed skepticism.
Modern manufacturers are deeply invested in protecting their employees, and support the work of bodies such as the CSB as they establish new workplace safety paradigms centered on innovative strategies and technology. Current CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland has received praise from industry leaders for streamlining the agency’s investigation workflows and collaborating more effectively with businesses. Despite these positive developments, however, the agency has been put on the chopping block as part of a wider push for government deregulation.
How would the abolition of the CSB impact firms developing new safety and reliability programs?
Addressing chemicals in the workplace
Chemical compounds are among the most serious safety hazards found within industrial work environments, according to the National Safety Council. Manufacturers and other businesses leverage hundreds of different substances in everyday workflows and produce significant amounts of equally dangerous chemical residue. Workers who encounter these materials can suffer serious or sometimes fatal injuries. In fact, approximately 268 American employees died in 2016 because of such exposure events, according to research from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Firms in the industrial space are well aware of the dangers that their workers face, which drives them to develop safety and reliability programs that prevent injuries.
Oversight bodies like OSHA and the CSB are heavily involved in these efforts, working with industry stakeholders to create enforceable policies that keep employees safe, even as they encounter risk while performing everyday duties. In 2016, the CSB conducted seven major investigations, including an inquiry into the 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, that killed 15 workers and injured more than 260 others. Through these investigations, the CSB developed best practice recommendations so industrial businesses do not repeat the errors of their less fortunate peers. OSHA adds another dimension by approaching the subject of chemical management from the position of the worker and formulating safety standards that keep employees safe. While businesses in the industrial space have traditionally butted heads with OSHA, they have had a productive relationship with the CSB, which many leaders credit for revolutionizing chemical handling practices here and abroad. Its investigations have resulted in the creation of new guidelines that not only keep workers safe but also reduce costs associated with employee injury.
Considering operations after CSB
If Congress embraces the Trump administration’s budget and authorizes the elimination of the CSB, then industrial organizations would have to seek out new external partners and refocus their efforts in order to ensure vigilance in an environment with little federal oversight. The critical insight the agency once provided would be gone, increasing the likelihood of catastrophic events caused by small operational lapses. The West fertilizer plant resulted in more than $230 million in damages to the local community. Without the CSB, another similar situation may develop.
USC Consulting Group can help chemical manufacturers with operating efficiency by developing effective safety and reliability programs for addressing chemical usage in the workplace. Furthermore, our consultants can establish asset performance management programs to ensure facilities are properly maintained with scheduled maintenance and well-planned outages, resulting in their employees staying safe from avoidable mishaps.
Is your organization considering how it might operate in a world without the U.S. Chemical Safety Board? Connect with USC Consulting Group today to learn more on how to improve safety in the workplace.