An Ounce of Prevention

A lot of what OTO does involves helping clients manage risks. Sometimes we do this in a reactive mode– digging up leaking gasoline tanks, capping abandoned landfills, and otherwise resolving problems that already exist. The proactive side is less obvious and dramatic (ok, and maybe a little less fun), and consists mostly of identifying potential hazards, planning how to deal with them, and helping train staff in how to respond.

Multiple Planning Requirements

There is a surprisingly large amount of this work, because many federal environmental laws and regulations include emergency planning requirements.

For example:

  • RCRA Contingency Plan for hazardous waste Generators and Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facilities (40 CFR 262.34, 264.52, 265.52, and 279.52);
  • Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasures plans under the Oil Pollution Act (40 CFR 112)
  • Facility Response Plans under the Oil Pollution Act (40 CFR 112.20 and 112.21); (with review and approval from EPA, Coast Guard, DOT and Department of the Interior regulators as appropriate)
  • Clean Air Act Risk Management Plan( 40 CFR part 68)
  • DOT Facility Response Plan (49 CFR part 194);
  • OSHA Emergency Action Plan (29 CFR 1910.38[a])
  • OSHA Hazwoper (29 CFR 1910.120)
  • OSHA Process Safety Management (29CFR 1910.119);

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Combining Plans

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could somehow combine all of these into one plan?

Well, as it happens, you can.  This isn’t really a new thing—EPA’s guidance for “integrated contingency plans,’ sometimes referred to as the “One Plan” concept, was published in the Federal Register in June 1996 (61 FR 28641, June 5, 1996 and 40 CFR 265.54), and EPA Region 1 and the Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance produced a demonstration model plan several years ago. The “one plan” option provides a means to combine numerous contingency plans into one living document that can address multiple overlapping (or we could say ‘redundant’) requirements. It can’t cover all of them, but it can usually cover the ones listed above.

When you consider how much of the required content of each kind of plan listed above overlaps, combining them makes a great deal of sense. At bottom, a good plan consists of four components:

  1. A description of the location/situation and risks including information such as: standard precautions; potential hazards; potential receptors; an analysis of what could go wrong; and what would happen as a result (e.g. an oil slick on a river upstream of a drinking water intake, or an anhydrous ammonia cloud over an urban area). The degree of analysis is the major variable among the various plan types, for example a SPCC or FRP requires evaluation of potential releases to water bodies, whereas the RMP is concerned principally with releases of airborne vapors or gases.
  1. Emergency contact information for facility and corporate staff, emergency response personnel, regulators, and emergency management agencies such as the Coast Guard or the Local Emergency Planning Committee;
  1. Written procedures for what facility staff should do in the event of an emergency, and
  1. Documentation of relevant things such as changes to the facility, inventories of available equipment, updates to the plan, and staff training. After all, the best plan in the world doesn’t mean much if it’s not documented.

For example….

Consider, for example, a commercial dairy processing facility located along a river—ok, milk sounds innocuous, but it’s probably more complicated than that. Animal fats can be as destructive to aquatic life as heavy fuel oils- one of the major effects of any sort of oil or fat is a huge increase in chemical and biochemical oxygen demand (COD and BOD) which depletes the oxygen level in the water to a level that fish and other critters can’t survive. Animal fats are therefore covered under the Oil Pollution Act, so a SPCC is required. It could also be the case (as it often is), that the facility has a massive refrigeration plant using anhydrous ammonia, which triggers the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan and OSHA Process Safety, RCRA generator status for various hazardous wastes, etc. Then let’s assume EPA thinks the facility could cause ‘substantial harm’ to the river in the event something goes wrong, and requires a Facility Response Plan (an “FRP”) on top of the SPCC.

That’s five planning requirements right there, but at bottom most of them are going to deal with the same regulated materials, the same staff, and the same emergency response procedures, so having one well-maintained and drilled plan instead of five makes complete sense. It’s also far easier to keep one plan up to date than five, particularly when that means documenting inspections, staff training (and for some plans, such as Facility Response Plans, actual drills).

Train Like It’s For Real

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Of course, having a plan on paper is only the first part, since if it only exists on paper even the best and most comprehensive plan won’t do any good without training and practice. At our recent in-house OSHA refresher training, OTO had a guest speaker who had been an OSHA inspector for 37 years.  He presented us with a number of case studies for industrial accidents, and one recurring theme was emergency action plans that essentially existed only on paper, and provided no value at all when an actual emergency occurred, since staff couldn’t implement a plan they hadn’t been trained on.

Staff need to be trained, equipment bought and maintained, and procedures practiced both in the field and as tabletop exercises. Effective plans represent ongoing commitments, and require inspections, training and documentation. This of course means money, in terms of staff time, hiring an engineering consultant to assist in developing plans, and sometimes hard construction costs, such as upgrading secondary containment for tanks, modifying stormwater systems to reduce potential spill exposures or modernizing HVAC systems to keep pace with vapors or fumes. Many plans, such as the SPCC, require the party responsible for the facility to certify that they are committing the necessary resources to make the plan workable. Good plans are also ‘living’ documents, which means that if you change your operation, say by adding another 20,000 gallon aboveground storage tank, you would need to change your plan, and if one part of your plan turns out not to work, you update your plan.

While it’s always good to be the “man with a plan”, sometimes all you need is one plan.