Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (USCSB), United States
█ CARYN E. NEUMANN
The United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigations Board (USCSB) is a federal agency formed to identify the causes of chemical accidents. Created in 1990 as part of an amendment to the Clean Air Act, the USCSB did not begin functioning until it received funding in 1998. Although its purpose overlaps that of other federal agencies, notably the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the USCSB differs from these organizations in that it does not have the power to make or enforce rules affecting the routine day-to-day activities of businesses. Instead, the USCSB makes a unique contribution to the protection of workers, the public, and the environment by investigating chemical accidents in the country and attempting to prevent future mishaps. The only regulations put into place by the fact-finding agency involve the reporting of chemical incidences.
The establishment of the Washington, D.C.-based USCSB is a result of the belief that existing hazard investigation agencies, like OSHA, EPA, and NTSB, focus on violations of existing rules while ignoring factors that contribute to a chemical accident, but which do not constitute a violation of existing rules and regulations. By creating this independent, scientific, investigatory agency and modeling it after the NTSB, Congress hoped to produce fuller accident reports that could then be used to formulate new regulations and policies to prevent future dangerous chemical spills and explosions. The amended Clean Air Act of 1990 that gave birth to the USCSB directs the board to investigate and report on the circumstances and the probable causes of chemical incidents resulting in a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damages; recommend measures to reduce the likelihood or the consequences of such accidents and propose corrective measures; and, lastly, to establish regulations for reporting accidental releases. The board has no enforcement authority, does not issue fines or penalties, and essentially plays a very limited regulatory role.
Accidental releases of toxic and hazardous chemicals occur frequently and often have serious consequences. The USCSB is notified of every chemical release in the country and then decides which accidents to investigate. It is required to coordinate its activities with OSHA, NTSB, and EPA, but when an accident involves transportation, NTSB is the lead agency. Board members, appointed by the president to five-year renewable terms and confirmed by the Senate, are ultimately responsible for the conduct of investigations and the content of accident reports. Staffers and contractors conduct the actual investigations, which typically involve extensive site visits, evidence collection, and analytical work. Investigators may issue brief summary or detailed investigative reports. Some investigations may conclude without the issuance of any report. Accident reports must be approved by a majority vote of the five board members before they are issued. As of 2000, the USCSB had issued only a handful of reports, in part because of insufficient staffing but also as a result of serious disagreements among board members. Staff levels have since been raised and the board has established a more harmonious working arrangement. The agency is in the process of developing the Chemical Incidents Reports Center, an online database of chemical incidents that have occurred worldwide, in the hopes that the site may inspire researchers to investigate the incidents that the USCSB cannot examine for lack of resources.
The rise in global terrorism and the corresponding fear of a terrorist attack that utilizes chemicals makes the USCSB an important component of American homeland security. By identifying hazardous practices, the agency promotes preventive actions by the public and private sectors that may make it more difficult for terrorists to create chemical incidents.
█ FURTHER READING:
United States General Accounting Office. Chemical Safety Board: Improved Policies and Additional Oversight Are Needed. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2000.
——. Chemical Safety Board: Realigned Management Faces Serious Challenges: Testimony Before the Sub-committee on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2000.
United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. "Chemsafety.gov." < http://www.chemsafety.gov/about > (January 19, 2003).