The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB; Washington, D.C.; www.csb.gov) is a federal agency that is charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The Board was created to operate independently of other agencies and its principal role, as described on its website, is “to investigate accidents to determine the conditions and circumstances which led up to the event and to identify the cause or causes so that similar events might be prevented.”
The CSB’s investigative reports and videos, which are freely available on its website, are informative and professionally done. It was concerning to learn that the recent U.S. Presidential budget proposal does not include any funding for the CSB in 2018. The potential loss of important lessons learned from actual accidents in the chemical process industries (CPI), some of which have very unfortunately been fatal, seems like a big price to pay for an agency whose budget is around $12 million/yr — a small number in the big scheme of the overall budget.
The CPI’s commitment to safety
Safety is a core concern of those who work in the CPI. Much effort goes into planning for safety — through hazard review processes, efforts to create intrinsically safe processes and much more. And CPI companies have nurtured a safety-conscious culture amongst their employees through investments in training, safety equipment, safety inspections, rewards for safe practices and more. I experienced this first-hand in the years I worked in the CPI. Member companies of the American Chemistry Council (ACC; Washington, D.C.; www.americanchemistry.com), for example, voluntarily agree to participate in the Responsible Care Program as a condition of membership.
Members commit to follow the guiding principles of the Responsible Care Initiative. These principles are outlined on the ACC’s website, and include statements such as “to design and operate facilities in a safe, secure and environmentally sound manner.”
Process safety management
Today, in addition to the corporate environment, the importance of process safety is recognized in numerous programs that are helping to make process safety management a mainstream topic. One such program is the Mary Kay O’Conner Process Safety Center at Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (College Station, Tex.; psc.tamu.edu). The Center was established in 1995 in memory of its namesake, a chemical engineer who died in an explosion in 1989. The Center, which is directed by Dr. Sam Mannan, describes its mission as follows: “to promote safety as second nature in industry around the world with goals to prevent future incidents.”
Safety discussions and learning can also be found in conferences, such as the well-attended annual Global Congress on Process Safety presented by the Center for Chemical Process Safety and the AIChE Safety & Health Division.
Still, with all of the efforts put forth toward safe practices, sometimes things go wrong, and accidents — sometimes disasters — occur. At those times, having an independent agency that can effectively investigate what went wrong and report it to the rest of the community sounds like a very worthwhile investment. I hope a way is found to keep the CSB afloat.■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director