Occupational safety a central theme for new initiatives

Paul Boughton

Occupational safety is a key focus for chemical companies today. Here we outline some of the initiatives being pursued. Sean Ottewell reports.
At BASF, global safety concepts are designed serve to protect employees, contractors and its neighbours: “Safe plants and qualified employees are the prerequisite for trouble-free production. A high degree of safety awareness together with clear rules and guidelines form the basis for the trust that the public places in our company.”
By 2020, the company wants to reduce the lost-time injury rate per million working hours by 80 per cent worldwide compared with 2002.
In 2011, the latest figures available, a total of 1.9 work related accidents per million working hours occurred at BASF sites worldwide. This represents a reduction of 42 per cent compared with 2002. For contractors, the number of occupational accidents decreased to 2.4 per million working hours in 2011.
In terms of programmes and measures now implemented by BASF, the company says occupational safety plays a fundamental role in daily routines: “It includes regular safety briefings in our production facilities as well as the ongoing activities of safety experts. We have promoted and monitored the safety awareness of employees for a long time through safety regulations, seminars, training activities and audits.”
All accidents, near-accidents and other incidents are documented and evaluated in databases for all sites worldwide. This allows us the company to identify potential weak points and learn from mistakes (Fig. 1). BASF also includes incidents involving contractor staff.
In addition, systematic risk assessments of working procedures and individual activities help to sensitise employees at an early stage to potential hazards and to minimise risks. This also includes the early development and assessment of new technologies to ensure that they are handled correctly.
In 2006, for example, the company published guidelines for the safe handling of nanomaterials, which were revised and renewed in 2010 by an international and interdisciplinary team of BASF experts. In 2011, these were adopted as a globally binding standard to regulate the safe manufacture and use of nanomaterials in the workplace as well as the identification and assessment of exposure.
This has been important to BASF because nanotechnology helps in all growth sectors to develop novel materials and systems that help it to contribute to sustainable development.
A variety of other safety programmes are also underway. For example, the global safety initiative launched five years ago is headed up by managers whose job is to provide constant motivation for staff and to continue developing safer working conditions.
Another initiative launched in 2010 was based at the company’s Ludwigshafen hq in Germany and used the motto ‘lead on!’ The leadership team at Ludwigshafen drew up framework conditions for visibly and firmly establishing the prioritisation of safety in the company. As a result, 1500 production, technical, office and lab workers took the opportunity of familiarising themselves with practical briefing subjects and training modules.
Since then the company has started up its safety champions training centre, also at Ludwigshafen. This offers interactive and practice-based modules designed by occupational safety experts that can be combined to develop personalised qualification concepts. So far over 10,000 employees and contractors have received training in occupational safety-related issues there. [Page Break]
Healthy people, healthy plants
BP believes that healthy performance is achieved by healthy people, applying healthy processes in healthy plants. The company therefore works to reduce exposure to occupational risks, which may include infectious diseases, fatigue or stress and other health issues.
“Our group-wide operating management system provides requirements that our operations must follow to help ensure provision and maintenance of a safe and healthy working environment – with the objective of preventing harm to the health of employees, contractors, visitors and members of local communities who may live or work near our operating sites,” notes the company.
Specifically, it follows a systematic approach to identify hazards, assess risks and maintain programmes to mitigate risks. For example, the company may reduce staff exposure to a given hazard, or require fitness assessments for specific tasks individuals are required to carry out in the course of their work.
BP also expects all of its personnel, whether at refineries, on rigs, ships, or offices, to demonstrate their personal responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of everyone around them. This is done by continuously reinforcing the importance of safe practices and encouraging reporting of any breaches: BP employees can raise health and safety concerns through formal worker safety committees.
In terms of process safety, BP says this involves applying good design principles along with robust engineering, operating and maintenance practices: “BP believes process safety needs to be woven into every stage in design, operation and management of our equipment and facilities. This means designing our plants in a way that allows maintenance and correct operation.”
To achieve this, the company focuses on three interconnected aspects of the business. Firstly, people: the capability of its staff in terms of leadership skills, relevant knowledge and experience, and the organisational culture they create. Second is plant:  engineering hardware and control systems - and layouts to eliminate, control and mitigate potential hazards to people, and improve productivity. Lastly is process: management systems to identify, control and mitigate risks and drive continuous operational improvement.
In terms of measuring safety performance, BP records leading indicators that focus on the strength of its controls to prevent incidents. These include inspections and tests of safety-critical equipment. The company also measures lagging indicators that record events that have already happened – such as oil spills. “Both leading and lagging indicators are important for trending performance. However, leading indicators are often more operation-specific,” notes the company.
No compromise on safety
“Safety, concern and care for people, protection of the environment, and personal and corporate integrity are this company's highest values and we will not compromise them,” says DuPont.  
The company’s safety philosophy is based on adhering to the highest standards for the safe operation of facilities and the protection of the environment, employees, customers and the people of the communities in which it does business.
The company says it will strengthen its businesses by making safety, health and environmental issues an integral part of all business activities and by continuously striving to align its businesses with public expectations.
“We believe that all injuries and occupational illnesses, as well as safety and environmental incidents, are preventable, and our goal for all of them is zero.  We will promote off-the-job safety for our employees,” it states.
At the core of DuPont’s approach is a set of safety beliefs: all injuries and occupational illnesses are preventable; concern and care for the health and safety of people is equal in importance to and must precede concern for other business objectives; people are our most important resource and each person has a unique, value-adding contribution to make; to achieve excellence in safety, management must demonstrate leadership and set an example in its commitment to safety; a safe operation enhances our competitive position and has a positive impact on our customers and our communities; the use of advanced technology and facility design is essential to contain hazards; people do not want to get hurt and can self-manage themselves to prevent injury; and involvement in safety activities develops safety knowledge, increases awareness of and sensitivity to hazards, and helps prevent occupational injury and illness.
This goes hand-in-hand with the company’s product stewardship philosophy. Here DuPont affirms that it will extract, make use, handle, package, transport and dispose of its materials safely and in an environmentally responsible manner. It also commits the company to continuously analysing and improving its practices, processes and products to reduce their risk and impact throughout the product lifecycle. Another commitment is to develop new products and processes that have increasing margins of safety for both human health and the environment – and to seek out opportunities to make new and existing facilities inherently safer.

Air Products wins occupational safety award

Air Products is the latest winner of the Leonard Parker Pool award from the US Compressed Gas Association (CGA). The award is presented annually to the member company that has recorded the greatest improvement in safety performance during the previous two years and is based upon the total recordable incidence rates.
The award is named in memory of the late Air Products founder and chairman, Leonard Parker Pool, who was recognised as an industry moderniser and an advocate for continuous improvement in operational safety.
Commenting on the award, Joe Pietrantonio, vice president, environment, health, safety and quality and chief engineer, Air Products, said, “The legacy of our founder Leonard Pool has gifted us a very strong safety culture. We are extremely proud of that but we remain mindful not to take it for granted. Safety, like every other aspect of business, has to be actively managed and continuously improved upon. The award is worthy recognition for all of our employees and for many of our customers who place the same high priority on safety performance.”
The CGA’s reporting and awards programme promotes safety awareness as part of the Association’s charter to facilitate and encourage safety and self-regulation.
Air Products also received two environmental excellence awards from the CGA, one for its reduction of ammonium bifluoride waste at its electronic speciality materials facility in Hometown, Pennsylvania, and the other for its solar farm situated at its corporate headquarters.
Founded in 1913, the CGA is dedicated to the development and promotion of safety standards and safe practices in the industrial and medical gas industry.