OSHRC Dramatically Expands Interpretation of “Interconnected” for PSM-Coverage

By Eric J. Conn and Micah Smith

On March 28, 2019, the OSH Review Commission released its decision in Sec’y of Labor v. Wynnewood Refining, OSHRC, Nos. 13-0644 & 13-0791.  In a fairly brief opinion, the Commission affirmed the decision of the ALJ on two significant issues:

  1. the PSM standard applied to a utilities boiler; and
  2. OSHA inappropriately relied upon the citation history of a prior owner in characterizing citations as Repeat.

Expanding PSM Coverage

With regard to PSM applicability, the decision is framed as a response to the arguments raised in the refinery’s brief, but it does not directly address the arguments raised by the amicus brief filed by AFPM and API.  The Commission began its discussion of PSM applicability by evaluating the meaning of the definition of “process,” in particular how to interpret this phrase:

“For purposes of this definition, any group of vessels which are interconnected and separate vessels which are located such that a highly hazardous chemical (HHC) could be involved in a potential release shall be considered a single process.”

The Commission held that, in order to prove a group of vessels qualify as a process, OSHA may prove either that a) the group of vessels are interconnected or b) separate vessels are located such that an HHC could be involved in a potential release.  With surprisingly little analysis, the Commission held that this was the plain meaning of the terms of the standard, and the Commission did not evaluate at all whether OSHA’s interpretation deserved deference.  (Note:  Chairwoman MacDougall disagreed that this was the plain meaning of the terms, but she agreed that OSHA’s interpretation of the definition deserved deference.)

This decision gave no credence to the arguments made by the refinery and the amici, which both urged the Commission to find that interconnected vessels be considered a single process only if there is a reasonable probability that an event such as an explosion would affect the interconnected vessels. Continue reading

OSHA Issues During Acquisitions and Divestitures – [Webinar Recording]

On November 8, 2016, Eric J. Conn and Lindsay A. DiSalvo of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice, presented a webinar regarding OSHA Issues During Acquisitions and Divestitures.

OSHA compliance issues have been long ignored in the due diligence process for mergers, acquisitions and divestitures.  With OSHA’s focus on follow-up inspections and Repeat citations, and expanding the concept of successor OSHA liability, it is a topic that should no longer be left out of the due diligence process.  This webinar delved into the current landscape of successor liability under the OSH Act, explained what safety and health obligations a new employer may assume as a result of past conduct by a predecessor employer, and provided tips and strategies for managing OSHA compliance related due diligence.

Participants learned about: Continue reading