Chemical industry needs to cut hazards

The chemical industry lacks common practice protocols and understanding to identify safer processes, a new report said.


ISS SourceThe chemical industry needs guidance in choosing alternative processing methods to reduce or eliminate hazards, a national panel said in a report released on May 11, 2012.

In the grand scheme of things, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require chemical companies to follow certain procedures to ensure manufacturing processes are safe. Having said that though, the report by the National Research Council (NRC) said the chemical industry needs better practices and understanding to identify safer processes.

It recommends the U.S. Chemical Safety Board or other entity develop a plan to help chemical plant managers choose alternative processes to reduce or eliminate hazards.

One method, known as an “inherently safer process” assessment, aims to minimize or eliminate a hazard. But the assessment does not always provide clear guidance. The report said switching to a non-flammable solvent in a process would remove a fire hazard. But if the solvent is toxic, then there is a new hazard.

Use of inherently safer process strategies would reduce the number of vulnerable areas around a company’s facilities, which would decrease the scope of emergency preparedness programs. But it potentially could narrow the focus too much and overlook certain outcomes, the report said.

Congress ordered the study following a 2008 explosion at BayerCropscience’s plant in Institute, WV, which killed two workers. The explosion occurred near a storage tank containing methyl isocyanate, a highly toxic chemical also known as MIC. The tank did not suffer damage and the chemical did not release.

Bayer took measures to reduce risks associated with MIC manufacturing and storage at the Institute plant. But the company did not incorporate all possible methods to control hazards, the report said.

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