An integrated regulatory compliance strategy can help owners ensure that worker training, training programs and training records meet regulatory requirements.
By Richard A Gehse, P.E., HCI Systems Inc.
Regulatory compliance for power producers has become more complex in the past few years for several reasons, including the utilization of hazardous chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia for selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems, utility reaction from increased Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) audits and certification requirements included in Title 5 permits for Risk Management Programs (RMPs). Complying with the increased regulatory requirements is becoming more difficult not only for owners but for the companies that are contracted to maintain, operate and/or inspect the regulated process as well. In this context, these support companies are called compliance partners.
When OSHA is notified of potential violations (which force site compliance audits) or when it performs random unannounced site audits, the cited companies may include not only the owner but also any contract company. Contract companies and their workers may be cited for working in unsafe situations created directly or indirectly by the owner’s action or inaction. Although some owners may be capable of litigating OSHA citations directed at their work practices, many contract companies are not. These companies may be vulnerable to penalties because the owner is unable to ensure that its contractors and their workers comply with regulations. Owners who believe it is solely the contractor’s responsibility to comply with all regulations quickly learn otherwise, as both parties may be cited and found liable for any non-compliance on the part of the contractor.
Information overload can rapidly occur as owners attempt to document compliance records for contractors and compliance partners, as well as their own workers. Records of safe work practices, safety violations, training, drug testing and security screening are required for all workers.
An integrated regulatory compliance strategy can help owners ensure that worker training, training programs and training records are adequate.
The first strategy centers on the fact that no worker should be asked to perform a task on or around any regulated process without being trained and proven qualified in the safe work practices associated with the task. This is usually an explicit regulatory requirement for certain hazardous chemicals, not to mention good business conduct for any potentially hazardous work task.
Companies can reduce the number of lost time accidents by training each worker before assigning him or her to a task. Proper training documentation is required and can assist should litigation occur involving OSHA and third parties. Possible legal exposure can be diminished significantly if accurate training documentation exists for each worker who signs a release or who is involved in an accident. If no training documentation exists, the legal exposure increases.
Contract workers are usually considered an extension of the owner’s work force. Qualified training status applies to contract workers as well as to the owner’s employees. Just as an owner’s employee should not be assigned a task for which he or she is not qualified or trained to perform, the same is true for a contract worker. OSHA’s training requirements cannot be circumvented by sub-contracting the work to unqualified contract workers.
OSHA makes it clear that the contractor is responsible for training its employees. OSHA also makes it clear that the owner’s safe work practices apply to contract workers. Although contractors may have safety training programs of their own, during audits, OSHA looks for proof that the contractor is complying with the owner’s applicable safe work practices and is maintaining documentation in the same format as the owner. The owner is responsible for verifying that the contractor’s records are accurate and up-to-date and are in a format consistent with regulatory requirements. The owner must confirm that proper documentation exists to prove that any contract worker scheduled to work on or around a regulated process is trained and proven qualified in the owner’s safe work practices before performing a task. The owner may become responsible if the contractor fails to comply with this documentation requirement.
Owners that analyze contractors’ safety programs in an effort to transform (or force) the contractors’ training programs and records into their own format are left with a daunting task and policing action. Program deficiencies, record errors and missed training must be identified and resolved before the contractors’ employees can be allowed to work on a regulated process. Audits and resolution process tracking are usually necessary. So are yearly compliance record audits. Once an owner considers the hundreds, if not thousands, of contractors that need to have their training programs evaluated and their records converted and qualified, many drop this compliance strategy. Instead, they opt either to ignore this regulatory requirement or manage the contractors’ training records alongside their own.
The next strategy is to manage training by grouping workers by common needs. The owner should create training groups and then assign each group to develop training programs and track training record status. Examples of groups include departments, certified welder types, mechanic grades, auditors, inspectors and first responders. The groups also can be defined as qualified fork lift truck operators, qualified crane operators or qualified regulated process workers. Workers can be members of more than one group. Groups for a common regulatory requirement, such as for anhydrous ammonia training, can be further organized into profiles. Profiles can have multiple groups and a group may be a member of more than one profile.
Training requirements for each profile group then can be determined based on the owner’s appropriate safe work practices. For example, the requirements for a mechanic group on a regulated anhydrous ammonia process could include training for:
- Hot work permit
- Line break
- Confined space entry
- Respiratory protection
- Pulmonary testing
- Respirator fit testing
- Personnel protection equipment
- Fire extinguisher training
- General awareness training
- Emergency response training
Training for a contractor’s group could also include site access training, drug testing, access to the regulated process and basic plant safe work practices.
Training material should be created for each topic and based on safe work practices, procedures, videos, seminars or any other appropriate third-party training. During OSHA audits, compliance officers will base the owner’s compliance on this sort of training matrix; therefore, the training material should be kept simple and defensible. This material could be assembled and taught as a training class and should be available to OSHA and/or contractors in a format that can be downloaded.
The next strategy involves keeping records of workers’ training and documenting that the workers understand the training. This latter requirement is where many training programs fail. For regulated processes, it is not enough to have workers attend a video or seminar and use a sign-in sheet as training documentation. Regulations require that the owner document the method that was used to verify the worker actually understood the training. Verification can be accomplished by written exams, oral exams and worker-signed affidavits. In each case, the validation record should be stored with each worker’s training record.
For training that is not regulated, attendance-only records may be appropriate. Documentation that the worker simply needed to read the material for awareness also is often acceptable for non-regulated training.
The next strategy is to determine appropriate refresher training. OSHA regulations provide some guidance here by requiring that both management and the workers agree on the refresh training frequency. Refresh frequencies cannot be established by management or workers alone. In many instances, where written procedures are used as training material, annual re-certification may force annual workers to seek re-training. In other instances, it may be appropriate to establish refresh training every one or two years based on the process’ complexity. Process changes may also force worker re-training.
Regulated process changes necessitate a review of how documents, drawings and operating, maintenance and inspection procedures are affected. Changes in regulated process procedures will require re-training for all affected groups. All profile group training requirements that incorporate training material affected by the changes will also alter training requirements, causing all currently qualified workers to lose that status. Workers must then retrain with supporting documentation to reinstate their qualified status. Owners should plan on a phase-in period to allow new or revised training material to be imported gradually to minimize the gaps in qualified workers.
All supervisors, work planners or schedulers should verify the qualified status of any worker who is scheduled to work on or around the regulated process. This should be routine for every work assignment because changes in procedures or safe work practices may cause workers to lose their qualified status at any time. Qualified status should be available to all workers.
Missing or expired training should be reviewed frequently and re-training scheduled for any gaps in required training.
Training records must be maintained by each participating compliance company. Because the number of records involved in the compliance effort is large, assigning the data entry to the principal compliance company could prove overwhelming. A local training association could be considered for training workers in core safe work practices. The principal compliance companies can then share the training records, minimizing the overall training and record keeping costs. In this scenario, the training compliance partner would update the training records directly as part of its record keeping process.
Training programs should include training provided by third parties or the owner’s compliance partners. This could include specialized training on equipment, systems and software, as well as inspection methods. Such training creates a true integrated compliance solution.
Compliance audits ensure that the compliance solution is working. They help the owner detect deficiencies and revise the business process, which is necessary to correct the deficiencies. Audits should be conducted on the principal compliance company or any of the owner’s compliance partners. These audits should include software because, in most cases, compliance software audits can detect abnormalities before they become systemic. Abnormalities can result in safety violations, product deficiencies, training deficiencies, accidents or near-misses.
A corrective action business process is essential to amend these abnormalities. Corrective action requests should be available to any worker or compliance partner. Trained corrective action team members, who may include outside consultants, specialists or other compliance partners, should be responsible for addressing the corrective action request.
Compliance audits eventually include regulatory agencies such as OSHA. When regulatory agencies initiate compliance audits, the owner should open the integrated compliance solution to the agency for compliance evidence. Agency detected deficiencies can be integrated into the corrective action module. These then can be processed and tracked, not only by the auditing agency but also by the cited company and its compliance partners.
Companies that must implement Process Safety Management/Risk Management Program (PSM/RMP) regulatory compliance methods and procedures should consider implementing similar methods and procedures for other regulated and non-regulated processes. Examples include Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) programs, Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations and underground storage tank systems (USTs). Other plant chemicals such as acids, caustics, flammable liquids and hydrogen should also be included. Plant safety is not only a regulatory requirement; it is simply good business practice.
Richard Gehse is Vice President of HCI Systems Inc., Lombard, Ill. He is a licensed professional engineer with expertise in the areas of OSHA and EPA (RMP) compliance. He worked for Commonwealth Edison Co., Orbital Engineering Inc. and Sargent & Lundy prior to joining HCI Systems Inc. in 2003. He has authored previous articles for Power Engineering magazine on the topics of fire and explosion mitigation techniques and personnel safety.