The PHMSA – or Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – is a branch of the Department of Transportation that ensures the safe and secure handling of pipelines as well as any materials classed as being a danger to the general public. PHMSA’s regulations support this effort by outlining rules and requirements for anyone who falls under their jurisdiction.
But what does this mean for you? How do these rules and regulations impact the lives of ordinary people and business owners in the United States? This is the issue we aim to address with this guide.
Read on to find out more or get in touch with our team if you have any questions.
Do PHMSA Regulations Apply to Me?
There are two ways to answer this question.
First, if you are handling or working with a substance deemed as hazardous by the Department of Transportation, then yes the regulations apply to you. It doesn’t matter whether or not the substance is being transferred via a pipeline. The regulations still apply. It is estimated that one million shipments fall into this category each and every day in the United States.
Secondly, if you are working with a pipeline – whether this is in design, construction, operation, maintenance, spill response, or any other capacity – you will be bound by the regulations handed down from the PHMSA. There are an estimated 2.6 million miles of natural gas and hazardous liquid transportation pipelines in the country.
What Are My Rights Under PHMSA Regulations?
PHMSA regulations are legally binding and are administered by the federal government, which means all must adhere to them, no matter where they are in the United States. As these regulations are designed to protect public safety across the board, the administration is in possession of certain powers of enforcement for anyone who does not follow them.
However, PHMSA’s position moving forward is not a rigid one. The public does have a say in the addition of new rules and standards and in the amendment of those already in place. The general public can do this by:
- Filing comments on rule making documents
- Joining public meetings and having their say
- Petitioning for the addition, amendment, or deletion of a regulation
PHMSA is a public body so the view of the public is taken into account. While individual members of the populace cannot lobby for rule changes by themselves, they can make a serious difference if they are able to organize enough people to join their side.
PHMSA Regulation Areas
Approvals and Permits
One of the key areas of the regulations relates to approvals and permits. When working with hazardous materials or pipelines, an individual must apply to the PHMSA for approval. If the work meets the standards of the administration, it is approved. In some cases, special permits may be provided for work which is necessary but which would not be permitted under normal circumstances.
Any work which is deemed not to be in adherence with the regulations laid out by the PHMSA will incur a penalty. The PHMSA has the power to enforce such regulations. You will have to be able to produce all permits and approval documentation if you are to carry out any work involving hazardous materials or pipelines.
Enforcement may include Corrective Action Orders, requiring you to take steps to bring the work up to compliance; Safety Orders, Notices of Probable Violation, Warning Letters, and Notices of Amendment, leading to eventual civil prosecution. This enforcement is designed to promote and encourage the safe and responsible operation of all work carried out under PHMSA jurisdiction.
Inspections and Investigations
PHMSA and its licensed operators have the legal right to inspect any work being carried out within the United States. This covers the safety of a project, its performance and regulatory adequacy, its fitness for purpose, and general adherence to regulations.
Teams will provide feedback and information to you and your organization. They will also conduct education and training wherever this is deemed necessary. In some cases, inspections and investigations may lead to enforcement. You will be expected to submit to these inspections on a regular basis to ensure ongoing compliance.
Hazardous Materials Registration
If you are working with hazardous materials, you will need to register your business with the PHMSA. This is true whether you are handling hazardous materials via a pipeline or not. For small business or non-profit organizations, the registration fee began at $250 in 2018, while all other registrants were required to pay $2575. This is subject to change in the future.
Registration can be carried out online and paid for with a credit or debit card or electronic check, or it can be conducted by mail with payment details enclosed. If registering online, your certificate will be ready to download and print within one or two days. If you have registered by mail, your certificate will be sent to you directly, usually in about four weeks. All communication regarding registration should be directed to the United States Department of Transportation in Atlanta, Georgia.
PHMSA is a governmental organization and the provisions of its regulations are geared towards bringing about a better situation for all Americans. Because of this, the administration does not do its work alone. Instead, it works collaboratively with other departments and with other public bodies to ensure the best results for all.
This means that the regulations outlined by the PHMSA are subject to change and that enforcement and inspections may be carried out under the advisory of other public bodies. It is important to understand your legal rights and obligations under all federal, state, and regional bodies when engaging in pipeline work or work with hazardous materials, and to stay abreast of any legal changes in your field.
Notices and Advisory Bulletins
It is important to understand where PHMSA is coming from when approaching their regulations and to recognize the motives behind these requirements. The PHMSA is not working to ‘catch anyone out’ or to trap an organization into paying fines or suffering penalties. Instead, they are working to protect the safety and security of businesses and private citizens in the United States.
To support this, PHMSA will issue notices and advisory bulletins informing the public of any changes to regulations. They will publicize any information pertinent to organizations and individuals working with pipelines or hazardous materials. The idea is to provide a wealth of information, which the public can draw upon, supporting wider public safety.
These bulletins range from general notices and safety advisories through to notifications regarding public meetings and information collection initiatives. All of these notices and advisory bulletins are retained as a public record and are available to the public for review.
Part of the legal requirement of PHMSA’s operation is that it responds and enforces recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board – or NTSB. The NTSB is an independent federal agency with power provided by Congress to allow them to investigate incidents involving transportation.
It is unusual for the NTSB to provide general recommendations, which cover all pipeline operators. If this is the case, PHMSA will publicize this with the bulletins and notices described above. Instead, usually, the NTSB will respond to specific issues relating to a recent investigation or study and will work with the PHMSA to define how best to correct this issue.
The PHMSA and NTSB work with six classifications of recommendation based on the recommendation’s status and the type of response received. This information will be made public on the PHMSA website. The specific three-letter acronym used will inform the public of the status of the recommendation.
The six classifications are:
OAA – Open Acceptable Action
OAAR – Open Acceptable Alternate Response
OUA – Open Unacceptable Response
ORR – Open Response Received
OAR – Open Await Response
IRR – Initial Response Received
Drugs and Alcohol
As pipelines and hazardous materials can cause a risk to the public, work in these areas is governed by strict regulations. This includes the prohibition of drugs and alcohol. PHMSA is permitted to carry out drug and alcohol tests on site operators and will work with the organization to ensure that drug and alcohol misuse prevention plans are in place to protect the safety of operators and the general public.
Drug testing must take place prior to the offer of employment, following an accident or incident, on returning from a leave of absence, or if any reasonable cause is given.
Alcohol testing must take place following an accident or incident, upon returning from a leave of absence, or if any reasonable cause is given.
Random tests for drugs and alcohol can take place at any time, and action may be brought against any operator who either refuses or fails one of the above tests.
To learn more about the PHMSA regulations and how they apply to you and your business, or to find out more about what our team can provide, get in touch today.