USW Urges Revision of Risk Management Program

The USW urged strengthening the Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule in written comments the union submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month.

“USW chemical workers are essential to preventing and responding to chemical release incidents,” said USW International Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn, who heads the union’s chemical sector.

“That’s why it’s important that the Risk Management Plan rule have strict regulatory protections in place to safeguard workers, the community and the planet from releases of hazardous chemicals into the air that can cause deaths, injuries, property and environmental damage, and force people to evacuate or shelter-in-place,” Shinn added.

Under the RMP rule, facilities that use or store certain dangerous chemicals in specific amounts must develop a risk management plan that identifies what can happen if there is a release of these hazardous substances, what steps the facility is taking to prevent such incidents and what emergency response procedures are in place should an incident occur.

President Biden issued an executive order in January that mandated a review of the EPA’s RMP rule. The agency conducted virtual listening sessions earlier this summer and solicited comments from the public regarding the changes made since the Trump administration gutted the 2017 Chemical Disaster Rule and implemented its final RMP reconsideration rule in 2019.

Since the 2019 final rule, a number of catastrophic incidents and near misses occurred, including two at USW-represented facilities: the June 21, 2019, explosion near storage of hydrofluoric acid at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in Philadelphia, and the Nov. 27, 2019, explosion and fire at the TPC Group chemical facility in Port Neches, Texas.

“These disasters are preventable,” the USW wrote in its submitted comments. “EPA has the authority, and an obligation, to issue a strengthened Chemical Disaster Rule that truly protects workers and communities.”

The USW urged EPA to improve the current RMP rule in six areas:

  • Require facilities to involve workers and their representatives in the prevention of catastrophic releases, and share all information related to an incident and its prevention.
  • Reinstate root cause analysis for chemical releases and near misses.
  • Re-insert third-party compliance audits as part of the RMP rule, and have these audits done after any incident meeting the definition of a catastrophic release.
  • Require industries outside of the chemical, petroleum and paper manufacturing sectors to do a safer technology and alternatives analysis of the processes and chemicals they use, as well as judge the impact of a worst-case chemical release to communities surrounding RMP facilities and order those sites to review safer chemicals and processes.
  • Mandate emergency response coordination between facilities and local emergency planning committees and first responders, and require them to conduct field and tabletop exercises in preparation for an accidental chemical release.
  • Coordinate with other agencies to harmonize lists of dangerous chemicals, update EPA’s list of regulated substances, and require facilities to evaluate the risk of a reactive chemical incident and to take appropriate action even if the chemicals are not on the EPA’s list.

“Hopefully, the EPA will begin its rulemaking process soon and weave the USW’s recommendations into a more robust Risk Management Program that better protects workers, communities and the environment,” Shinn said.

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-2446

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222