The Chemical Safety Board

Chemical Safety Board

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) conducts investigations into serious incidents that occur in the chemical and process industries. The following quotation is taken from the web site of the United States Chemical Safety Board.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the agency's board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

The CSB conducts root cause investigations of chemical accidents at fixed industrial facilities. Root causes are usually deficiencies in safety management systems, but can be any factor that would have prevented the accident if that factor had not occurred. Other accident causes often involve equipment failures, human errors, unforeseen chemical reactions or other hazards. The agency does not issue fines or citations, but does make recommendations to plants, regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), industry organizations, and labor groups. Congress designed the CSB to be non-regulatory and independent of other agencies so that its investigations might, where appropriate, review the effectiveness of regulations and regulatory enforcement.

The CSB investigative staff includes chemical and mechanical engineers, industrial safety experts, and other specialists with experience in the private and public sectors. Many investigators have years of chemical industry experience.

A very important aspect of its work, as we can see from the above statement, is that the CSB is not a law enforcement agency. It does have legal authority to enter a facility, but it cannot issue citations. That authority lies with agencies such as OSHA and the EPA.

Process Safety Fundamentals

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) airplane engine
Credit: Pixabay

The CSB is sometimes seen as being analogous to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) model, an agency that investigates the causes of airplane crashes and other serious events. If the NTSB finds that an incident was caused by a particular type of engine failure, for example, it communicates with all the other operators of that type of airplane and tells them what went wrong, and what corrective action needs to be taken. (If the event is serious enough the NTSB can ground the affected airplanes until the corrections are made.) The NTSB does not have to consider how the management systems failed.

This analogy between the CSB and the NTSB is imperfect. The chemical process industries are structured differently from the airlines. Each facility has a unique layout production capacity, location and environmental conditions. Therefore, an event in one facility can rarely be directly mapped to other industries.

Instead of directly transferring information about the cause of an event to hundreds of other affected parties, the CSB has to determine how the process safety management systems failed. Only then can they draw useful generalizations that can be applied broadly. This focus on management systems lies at the heart of the process safety management discipline, as discussed in many articles and safety moments at this site. (An example is Safety Moment #81: Process Safety Fundamentals.)


One of the earliest and most appreciated efforts of the CSB was to make videos of the incidents that they investigated. For example, this video to do with the dangers of hydrogen sulfide is based on an event that the agency investigated in the year 2019.

Hydrogen Sulfide Safety CSB
Credit: Chemical Safety Board

Management Guidance

In addition to investigating incidents, the CSB also provides general guidance, such as Best Practice Guidance for Corporate Boards and Executives in the Offshore Oil an Gas Industry for Major Accident Prevention

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