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Know Your Safety Agency: The CSB

Posted on 9/1/2015 by Anthony Cardno

The US Chemical and Hazard Investigation Board, or CSB, made headlines this year when its chairman resigned amid controversy. President Obama appointed, and the US Senate confirmed, a new chairperson in March. As the new Chair—former Chief Counsel for PHMSA, Vanessa Sutherland—begins her term, the time is right to ask: What exactly is the CSB, and what does it do?

What Is the Chemical Safety Board?

In 1990, as part of a bill to amend the US EPA's Clean Air Act, Congress established the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). An independent Federal agency, the CSB is charged with investigating chemical accidents and hazards at industrial facilities. It operates under the direct supervision of the president and Congress, to which it must submit annual reports on its activities.

Chemical safety board is currently run by four board members

What Does the CSB Do?

Modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the CSB's role is to investigate serious chemical accidents, identify their root causes, and recommend measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. While the Board can make recommendations to governing agencies like OSHA and US EPA, it does not have rulemaking, inspection, or enforcement powers. [42 U.S.C. 7412(r)(6)(C)(i)-(ii)]

The CSB is also authorized to conduct research and studies regarding the potential for accidental releases, even in cases when a release has not occurred but there is evidence that hazards are present. [42 U.S.C. 7412(r)(6)(F). Every four years, the Board releases its Strategic Plan, which outlines objectives.

CSB Structure and Term Limits

The CSB is headed by five Board members, each appointed by the president and confirmed by Congress to serve a fixed five-year term. Amidst the controversy and early departure of the former Chairman, however, the Board comprises only four members as of August 26, 2015.

Board members serve as the CSB's principal spokespeople—conducting meetings, attending safety conferences and committees, meeting with leaders of other Federal agencies, writing for publications, and voicing the CBS's recommendations to industry, government agencies, and other organizations. Appointments are based on technical qualifications; professional standard; and knowledge of accident reconstruction, safety engineering, toxicology, air pollution regulations, and related fields.

CSB chemical accident investigations are carried out by a dedicated professional staff of engineers, safety specialists, and attorneys, stationed across the US in order to expedite response.

Authority and Powers of the CSB

As part of its investigations, the CSB may hold hearings, issue subpoenas to compel witnesses to appear, and give testimony under oath and/or produce evidence (i.e., written records). The Board also has the authority to perform employee interviews, collect data from accident scenes, and conduct research studies.

The CSB may investigate "… any property where an accidental release causing a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damage has occurred" and "do all things therein necessary for a proper investigation… and inspect at reasonable times records, files, papers, processes, controls, and facilities and take such samples as are relevant to such investigation." [42 U.S.C. 7412(r)(6)(L)] The Board issues investigation reports, tracks follow-up on corrective actions, issues safety bulletins, and produces safety videos.

Limits on CSB's Powers

While CSB reports are available to the general public, these reports may not reveal trade secrets or confidential business information. CSB's findings may not be used in litigation for damages arising from the chemical accidents the Board investigates. Whenever the Board recommends to the US EPA or OSHA that it issue new regulations to address chemical hazards, the rulemaking agencies must respond to those recommendations either by adopting them or reporting in writing why not. While the Board may issue regulations to govern itself, it has no power on its own to issue or enforce regulations or inspect the regular workings of industrial facilities.

For EHS managers and other safety professionals, a visit from CSB investigators can mean that something went terribly wrong. To protect your site from chemical accidents and releases, get up to speed with latest US EPA regulations for emergency preparedness and contingency planning-plus other critical elements of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, EPCRA, TSCA, FIFRA, and more, at the interactive, expert-led Complete Environmental Regulations Workshop, presented nationwide.

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