PHMSA Inspections

PHMSA Enforcement Actions Up in 2019 — What Are the Control Room Implications?

In 2019, the number of PHMSA Enforcement Actions increased significantly from 2018. Specifically, PHMSA initiated 223 enforcement cases, up 13 percent from 198 cases in 2018.

Digging deeper into the PHMSA enforcement activity, there were 13 enforcement actions related to Control Room Management in 2019.

In a recent post, Control Room expert Charles Alday and his team dug into these 13 enforcement actions involving the control room. The actions were focused on the following aspects of the Control Room Management Rule (CRM Rule) for PHMSA-regulated pipeline operators:

  • General
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • Adequate Information — SCADA
  • Fatigue Mitigation
  • Alarm Management
  • Workload Assessment
  • Training
  • Compliance/Deviations

How PHMSA Determines Enforcement Activity

In general, PHMSA will initiate an enforcement case in response to these two categories of events:

  • An accident or incident
  • When an inspection reveals a “probable violation” of pipeline safety regulations

Focusing on the latter inspection aspect, PHMSA periodically inspects pipeline operations to ensure compliance with regulations and safe operations. If there is a concern, then PHMSA will open a case to review the probable violation.

The level of response ranges from lower risk to higher risk for pipeline safety:

  • Warning Letter (PHMSA determines there are probable violations and program deficiencies).
  • Notice of Amendment (PHMSA determines that an operator’s plans and procedures are inadequate and need to be amended)
  • Notice of Proposed Safety Order (PHMSA determines that a pipeline facility has a condition that poses pipeline integrity risk).
  • Corrective Action Order (PHMSA determines there is serious risk to life, property, or environment).

Commonly, PHMSA will issue a Notice of Probable Violation (NOPV) to the operator. The NOPV will include allegations of specific regulatory violations. The NOPV may also propose appropriate corrective action in a Compliance Order and/or Civil Penalties. The operator has a right to respond to the NOPV and to request an administrative hearing.

PHMSA will then perform a follow-up investigation during their case review. The case will be closed only after PHMSA “has determined that the required corrective actions have been completed by the operator” and any civil penalties have been paid.

The cases are typically closed the same year they are opened. However, the corrective actions required for some cases can be so extensive that it causes the case to continue into the following year(s) until the operator demonstrates a significant change.

Specific to Control Room Management, PHMSA is looking for gaps between control room activity and the CRM Rule that point to a safety issue. If the gaps are significant, your operation could be subject to further investigation.

How to Address a PHMSA Case Review of the Control Room

If PHMSA finds a probable violation in the control room, they will notify your operation of the alleged violation and request a correction of the mistake. Depending on the severity of the mistake, PHMSA may also request further action and possibly initiate a fine.

In addition to addressing the situation with the appropriate follow-up response, pipeline operators should also look ahead to how they can use this mistake to fuel future compliance.

Charles Alday said it well in his summary of the PHMSA Enforcement Actions that “reviewing the mistakes cited in the Enforcement Actions provides a learning opportunity.”

We recommend performing a holistic review of your control room. In other words, if your operation is cited for one area related to the CRM Rule, don’t just focus on that one area. Broaden out your review to focus on whether this one area is negatively affected by something else in the control room or if this one area is negatively affecting other areas of the control room.

Otherwise, you could find yourself in reactive mode continually reacting to the next mistake in the control room. Instead, use this as an opportunity to review the entire control room:

  • Review and update policies and procedures.
  • Ensure policies and procedures are aligned with the CRM Rule.
  • Evaluate whether processes are clearly outlined for performing actions.
  • Ensure control room personnel have a clear understanding of role-appropriate actions.
  • Verify that compliance is happening naturally and recordkeeping is happening as tasks are completed.

Taking these preventive actions will support the integrity of the control room as you drive toward pipeline safety throughout every area of the control room.

Consider PHMSA Inspection Support for the Control Room

As we outlined earlier this year, PHMSA is ramping up control room inspection efforts in 2020 as part of their 3-year inspection plan.

Now is the time for a proactive review of your control room to ensure that you are prepared for a PHMSA inspection of your control room.

If your operation has been subject to PHMSA enforcement activity in the past or if you are concerned about your control room’s ability to adhere to each critical area of the CRM Rule, consider obtaining support for your control room.

EnerSys can help operators and control room managers ensure audit readiness through our industry-leading combination of software for the control room and our consulting and compliance support.

We proudly offer the POEMS Control Room Management Suite (CRM Suite) that covers all critical areas of the control room. Our software provides operators with the tools to centralize and organize all records required for conformance to the PHMSA CRM Rule.

Additionally, we offer consulting and compliance services to review your control room and help establish procedures to reliably and safely operate a pipeline control room that will satisfy PHMSA inspections.

– To schedule an educational demo of the CRM Suite or to discuss our support capabilities, contact our team today.

To schedule a demo or call with our team, contact us directly on our website, via email at, or by phone at 281-598-7100.