Chemical Plant Safety

Chemical Plant Safety

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Could the blast in West Texas have been prevented with a better managed Chemical Plant Safety Program?

On Wednesday, April 17, 2013, a fertilizer plant in the small town of West, Texas, was the site of a massive chemical explosion.  Local homes and businesses in the small town were damaged and many were destroyed in the blast.

In all, 14 lives were taken, of the 14 at least 11 of them were emergency first responders and more than 200 citizens were injured, half of the town had to be evacuated.

The assessed damage caused by the explosion is estimated to be in the millions, not to mention the lingering chemical toxicity risks which could potentially affect the overall health of the community in the future.

Questions still remain about how the tragedy occurred, however in recent years, statistically there has been a steep rise in reported chemical plant safety incidents across the United States. In 2010 to 2011 alone, there was an increase of 400% and it is estimated that one out of three chemical plants are currently facing chemical safety issues and that 27% of chemical plant workers fail to report chemical plant safety incidents that occur on the job.

Even though we cannot say with certainty what caused the blast at the West plant, there is an alarming trend in the way chemical plant safety is managed in the U.S.

In general, the numbers say that chemical plants lack comprehensive and effective chemical safety programs and leadership. For example, chemical plant employees may not be properly trained on the dangers of the chemicals they work with on a daily basis and supervision may not always be vigilant in areas of simple or more complex risk. What is most alarming, however, is that in many cases employees fail to report safety violations for fear of losing their jobs!

Basic safety products and precautions such as fire extinguisherseye wash stations and power shut offs are insufficient.

For plant executives, the vast amount of regulations, recommendations, and resources provided between regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to name a few can be overwhelming to understand and implement.

Consulting companies focused on compliance and safety management may help, by providing risk assessments, analyses, and other tested tools for safety and crisis management. Most chemical disasters are preventable, but there must be better communication and cooperation to create chemical plants that are safe to work in, the chemical industry could also work with insurance providers to improve safety standards and keep costs down for all parties.

It is unfortunate to think that the explosion in West Texas might have been prevented with better chemical plant safety management and that developing better preventative safety programs could have prevented the reactive development of family assistance standards and best practices for dealing with this kind of incident in retrospect, including planning, training, and support. These tools, will be valuable and needed to handle the aftermath of a crises like Wednesday’s chemical plant explosion.

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About Alicia Connolly