Chemical Facility Safety is a Shared Commitment

Recently I attended meetings in Austin, TX organized by the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS). CCPS is part of the not-for-profit American Institute of Chemical Engineers that was formed 30 years ago in the wake of the Bhopal, India chemical release tragedy, to eliminate chemical facility major process safety incidents.

During the first session, I was asked about collaborative opportunities between EPA and CCPS to advance CCPS’s Vision 20/20. Vision 20/20 looks into the not-too-distant future to describe how the right process safety can be delivered when it is collectively and strongly supported by industry, regulators, academia, and the community worldwide. I identified a number of areas where EPA can collaborate with stakeholders to reduce chemical facility releases and deliver Vision 20/20. For example, Vision 20/20 calls for a range of stakeholders to work together “to effectively remove barriers to reporting of incidents, develop reporting databases, and promote mutual understanding of risks and effective process safety systems.” EPA strongly supports this concept and made it a core recommendation in the report for the president, Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment. This federal interagency working group report resulted from President Obama’s Executive Order 13650,Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security.

There is a tremendous nexus between Vision 20/20 and the report for the president. The federal working group identified the shared commitment for safety between companies, local preparedness officials, responders, federal government and state government that requires engaging through mutual sharing of information and mutual understanding of risks. This relates to another important element of Vision 20/20: Enhanced Stakeholder Knowledge, which “allows the public to effectively challenge industry to prevent process safety incidents.” I believe that EPA can be a tremendous partner to CCPS to advance this goal and simultaneously advance the commitments articulated in the report for the president.

Other areas that I highlighted from CCPS’ Vision 2020 included the need for strenuous verification by independent parties of engineered systems and process safety management to help companies evaluate their process safety programs as a supplement to internal audits. A committed culture includes executive, managers, supervisors and all employees, as well as vibrant management systems that emphasize vulnerability of accidents and enable a consistent adherence to process safety.    As documented in the report for the president, accidents continue to occur that cause death and property damage.  These incidents are infrequent but the consequences are severe to local communities. Vision 20/20’s emphasis on a vibrant management system engrained throughout an organization based on incident vulnerability is welcome and would advance chemical plant safety. One strategy identified in Vision 20/20 is enhanced application and sharing of lessons learned: “to reduce incidents, everyone needs to continually learn”.  I agree that we learn from accidents, near misses, industry benchmarking and success stories.

The collaboration with CCPS to advance the operationalization of Vision 20/20 is precisely the type of actions envisioned by the commitment in the report for the president. The dialogue needs to continue. As duly noted in the title of the report, chemical facility safety and security is a shared commitment. Through the combined efforts of all stakeholders, we can make a positive difference in, near, and around chemical facilities.

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