Save the Chemical Hazard Investigation Board

The CSB deserves the support of everyone and every organization in the U.S. process industries.

By Jim Montague

I've been plowing though the usual fall harvest of user group conferences with all their interesting sessions, but one really stuck out from the rest for me. It was by Manuel "Manny" Ehrlich, board member of the U.S. Chemical Hazard Investigation Board, who mentioned that CSB was able to get some added funding to investigate root causes following the fire, explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon platform on April 20, 2010, which killed 11 people and fouled much of the Gulf of Mexico with a record-breaking, subsea oil leak.

"When Deepwater Horizon happened in 2010, then-U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) was able to add $2 million to our budget over six years to help us conduct our investigation, but he eventually left Congress, and our funding was gone, too," said Ehrlich. "We've asked the current Congress to support us, but we were cut out of the 2018 budget."

Unbelievable, but these days, maybe not so unbelievable.

I think CSB is unlikely to get the lifesaving help it must have because too many individuals in the process industries view it is an irritant and unwelcome reminder about the process safety tasks they should be performing but aren't.

I've been covering the CSB on and off for a lot of years, and like many other individuals in and around the process field, I've appreciated its cool, computer-animated videos illustrating the root causes of hundreds of process safety accidents, as well as its reports and safety recommendations about how to avoid similar events in the future. I can't think of a more useful and valuable service to the operators, technicians, engineers and managers in these industries, or one that does more to show how they can make sure they and their coworkers "go home in same condition as when they showed up for work."

Ehrlich reported that CSB has conducted 800 root-cause analysis investigations since it was founded in 1998, and it's achieved a remarkable 78.8% compliance rate along the way. CSB's small, 40-member staff in Washington, D.C., and Denver provide a uniquely valuable service to all the professionals and employers in the process industries, and one that should be supported and preserved by everyone in them. Consistently supporting and funding CSB's comparatively tiny budget would be worth every penny given what process professionals get in return. So, call the offices of your elected representatives in Congress, and tell them to put CSB back in the budget. Be the squeaky wheel that gets CSB some grease.

2017 State of Technology Report: oil & gas applications

This is my hope, but truthfully I haven't heard a lot of outrage or other voices raised in support of CSB yet. And sadly, I don't expect to hear many as time goes by. Just as with so many other inexpensive and taken-for-granted services, everyone enjoys CSB's videos and reports, but few if any are likely to go out of their way to advocate for it.

I think CSB is unlikely to get the lifesaving help it must have because too many individuals in the process industries view it is an irritant and unwelcome reminder about the process safety tasks they should be performing but aren't. I'm afraid they really don't want to bother, and think they can get away without doing them—even if it puts their people and assets at risk and in harm's way. They talk process safety because it's expected and easy, but they aren't really interested in practicing or genuinely protecting their people, families and communities.

What's the word for someone who hurts people and communities for personal gain or malice? Criminal or negligent, or both. If the injuries and deaths that happen like clockwork in the process industries occurred in a regular community setting or municipality, the officers in the police departments I used to cover as a general assignment/police reporter would be searching for and dragging in a serial killer. Tragically, industrial injuries and fatalities carry little if any serious penalties because, in the U.S. at least, they're still expected and accepted, and because the perpetrators are too well insulated from justice.

Please don't let these forces of inertia and neglect keep on winning. Push for the CSB to get the assistance and funding it needs to keep on investigating and reporting. Who knows? You might even help prevent yourself or someone you know from being hurt or killed. 

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