Back in February 2015, an explosion at a Southern California refinery in Torrance shook nearby residents.
The blast produced tremors equivalent to a 1.7-magnitude earthquake.
Current reports published by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) indicate that the explosion was the due over-pressing of an air pollution control device at the refinery.
So what can the refinery explosion teach us when it comes to breakdowns, communication during a breakdown, and compliance with SCAQMD?
For those answers, we turn to SCAQMD Rule 430 and its implementation during a breakdown event.
SCAQMD Rule 430: The One Rule That Could Keep You in Compliance During a Breakdown
When there is a breakdown of a piece of equipment within your facility, it is important to know what to do in terms of dealing with the SCAQMD.
Generally speaking, if there is a breakdown of equipment at a facility, then you will want to be familiar with Rule 430 – Breakdown Provisions.
Rule 430 outlines provisions that apply to certain equipment breakdowns that result in a violation of certain rules or permit conditions.
In essence, the breakdown provisions, if used properly, can give a facility a certain level of coverage from enforcement actions due to violations in either rules or permit conditions during a breakdown event.
Now, to obtain “breakdown coverage,” the facility will need to complete the following during a breakdown event:
- Verbally report the incident to the SCAQMD within 1 hour of the incident.
- File a written report to the SCAQMD of the incident with 7 calendar days after a reported breakdown has been corrected, but no later than thirty calendar days from the initial date of the breakdown.
But here’s the problem …
Given all of the other things that typically go on during a breakdown event, 1 hour does not offer much time to respond and act accordingly.
As a result, it’s easy to miss the 1-hour window and the follow-up.
Potential Compliance Issues Exist During a Breakdown
From the images that have been posted of the refinery explosion, it’s easy to see that something broke down.
The SCAQMD recognizes that during a breakdown, the potential exists for excess emissions or emissions in excess of the limits of a given rule.
As a result, Rule 430 is designed to grant facilities relief in cases where a breakdown occurs, and the incident results in excess emissions.
Failing to call in a breakdown incident to the SCAQMD can have its own compliance liabilities, especially in the case where the breakdown event results in excess emissions and/or an event that makes it impossible for a facility to meet the requirements of a rule and/or permit condition.
It’s important to note that deviations from the rule can lead to notices of violations that can result in significant costs and liability to a facility due to a breakdown event.
The SCAQMD is empowered under the California Health and Safety Code to impose fines of up to $75,000 for per day per incident for non-compliance.
You can do the math …
So given all of this, it’s important to have a robust incident reporting and management system in place to ensure that all of the right calls and reports are filed within the times periods specified.
This will enable your facility to gain coverage that protects potential non-compliance and avoid hefty fines.
4 Ways To Maintain Compliance During A Breakdown Event
To ensure that proper relief is granted from any potential rule violations during a breakdown, it is important that all of the necessary notifications are made under Rule 430.
At the same time, however, it is equally important that your facility has a robust incident notification system to ensure that the proper steps are taken and communication channels are opened during a breakdown incident. This will ensure that the necessary notifications are made.
Often, if not tested and defined, a system will not work at the moment it matters the most.
To ensure that your incident management system works, we’ve put together a list of 4 ways to use Rule 430 to maintain compliance during a breakdown event.
1. Create a list of people that will be notified within the first 30 minutes of an incident.
Often, during an emergency incident, a large number of communication channels are quickly opened.
But ask yourself this: are the right channels being opened?
Because of the short amount of time allotted to notify the SCAQMD during a breakdown event, it is important to know the core group of folks within your facility that will be informed within 30 minutes of an event.
Typically, the Plant and Environmental Managers will be a part of that core group.
Additionally, you’ll want to know:
- How is the incident elevated from the line staff up through management?
- What happens if someone is on vacation or is unable to take the call? Is there an alternate?
Having an alternate is important because, as we know, sometimes Murphy wants to play all his cards. This bring us to our second point.
2. Know whose responsibility it is to notify the SCAQMD during a breakdown event ahead of time.
Remember that under Rule 430, you only have 1 hour to call in the event to the SCAQMD in the case of a breakdown.
Who will be making the call?
If the caller is not onsite at the time of the incident, how will the caller obtain the necessary facts needed to complete the breakdown call?
Does your facility have a pre-printed sheet to collect the needed data that will be used to file the vernal report to the SCAQMD?
If a breakdown notification is made during normal business hours, you’ll be talking to an operator who will be asking you questions related to the event.
The SCAQMD’s normal business hours are Tuesday – Friday 7 AM to 5 PM. If the call is made outside of normal business hours, the caller will need to leave a voice message with the needed information.
In any event, it’s important that the person responsible for notifying the SCAQMD during a breakdown event is aware of these procedures and the necessary documentation.
3. Know who will be responsible for closing out the breakdown event with the written report.
Under Rule 430, a written report needs to be filed within 7 days of the incident (these reports can be filed using a Form 500-N with a cover letter describing the breakdown event).
However, in the days following an incident, there may be numerous internal investigations, reports, and action items all going on at the same time.
With all of that, it is important to remember that, in addition to making a verbal notification under Rule 430, a written report is also due in order to obtain the complete breakdown coverage.
To be prepared, ask yourself these key questions.
- Do you have a plan in place to track the incident to closure?
- Who are the people responsible for closing out events along the way?
- Who is responsible for completing and submitting the breakdown report?
Depending on your facility type, the responsible official of the facility may be required to sign the breakdown report.
You will want to work backwards in order to complete the breakdown report so that it can be signed by the responsible official in a timely manner. In several breakdown events we have seen, the responsible official was out of the office on the due date of the report, and special arrangements were made to get the report signed and submitted.
4. Identify who will be responsible for interacting with the SCAQMD if they show up to your facility
From time to time, an inspector from the SCAQMD will be dispatched to your facility to investigate the breakdown event.
Yes, this will happen even if the breakdown was called in during the middle of the night.
You must identify the key individual who will be responsible for addressing the questions and requests of the SCAQMD. Whoever is responsible will need to know about the process and the conditions in the permit, as well as the timeline of events for the breakdown.
During the inspection, the SCAQMD inspector will almost always want to know the time that a violation of a permit condition or rule occurred.
It is also important that any correspondence that takes place during the site visit is addressed and closed out accordingly.
How Strong Is Your System For Managing Breakdowns?
No one wants to deal with an emergency or breakdown incident, especially one that makes it into the news.
However, if something does happen, you want to be sure that your facility has the necessary systems in place to effectively manage the situation and to also make reporting under Rule 430 a smooth process.
If not tested and defined, a system to manage breakdowns may not work at the time it matters the most, and that could lead to notices of violations from the SCAQMD. Moreover, it can result in significant costs and liability to a facility due to a breakdown event.
It’s better to give your system frequent test runs to ensure that all of the people involved know exactly what is expected of them during a breakdown incident.
How do you manage breakdown events?
Image Credit: Broken TV (cc)