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Why Improving Safety in Chemical Plants is Still Important | 14th February 2019

The Australian chemical industry contributes at least $11 billion to Australia’s GDP. In addition, more than 60,000 people are employed in various chemical plants and facilities.

The industry is also critical for several other industries to function. For example, the agricultural industry relies on fertiliser production. The outputs of chemical plants are also vital in enabling and supporting transport, manufacturing, power, construction, water, food and beverage industries. Behind the scenes, chemical plants are busy converting raw and base chemicals into products different industries can use. In fact, about 80% of the outputs of the chemical industry are inputs to other sectors.

The importance of safety in chemical plants

As a result, it’s important that the chemical industry is highly reliable. Any disruption to chemical plants also means a serious disruption to the industries downstream. Aside from causing a shortage, disruptions due to accidents and downtimes can also drive up the prices of fuels and essential chemicals.

More importantly, the personnel should be adequately protected from the hazards found in chemical facilities. These facilities pose hazards to people working in the area as well as to people near the site. Even if leaks are being prevented, residual chemicals are still lingering around. Aside from the toxicity and flammability, the workplace itself can be a source of hazards to the personnel.

For instance, the manual handling of bags and other chemical containers may cause physical injuries. Falls, cuts and abrasions are also serious concerns in chemical plants. Yes, exposure to and physical contact with chemicals are being minimised due to modern safety practices. However, chemical facilities are still not exempted from modern workplace hazards.

One of the safest sectors in Australia

Whenever most people imagine a chemical plant, they think of fumes, leaks, smokes and hazards. After all, chemicals are thought of synonymous with danger.

Surprisingly, the chemistry sector is one of the safest in Australia. In five years there are no fatalities despite the 28 million hours worked and 15,000+ employees covered (source: Chemistry Australia). The industry also has one of the lowest Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR). In contrast, fabricated metal and wood product manufacturing have the highest LTIFR. The safety levels in chemical plants actually run counter to our expectations. It could be the result of the awareness and knowledge regarding the risks and also the dedication of managers and staff to minimise the risks and improve the safety in the workplace.

Improving safety in chemical plants

Although major chemical leaks were almost a thing of the past (e.g. one of the most notable is the methyl isocyanate leak in Bhopal, India which caused 2,000+ fatalities), it’s always been an ongoing work to ensure and improve safety in the workplace. This is the result of the latest scientific findings about certain compounds and key chemical processes (and our willingness to adapt our processes according to those findings).

As with most other workplaces, the key to improving safety is to identify, assess and control the risk. It’s also important to review the effectiveness of the measures being implemented, which is why maintaining a history of injuries and fatalities is vital. Many managers also establish benchmarks whether within the industry or compared to other sectors.

The causes of injuries or fatalities that relate to falls, cuts and abrasions are straightforward and easy to point out (e.g. slippery surfaces, sharp objects, skin contact with the chemical). But the causes of exhaustion and dizziness (that might then lead to a physical accident or a major health problem) are difficult to point out. There are unseen threats (noxious vapours) that might have immediate or long-term health effects. It’s important that these unseen threats receive equal attention when it comes to identifying hazards and assessing risks.

One way to accomplish that is through the use of effective gas detection products. Identifying the gas hazards in the work site is important for the safety of both the workers and the passersby. Aside from the potential inhalation of toxic fumes, the release of gases and vapours might put everyone at risk (plus environmental contamination).

This identification of gas hazards is an ongoing work which requires constant monitoring. After all, the effects of gases and vapours are insidious and the effects might manifest only after long-term exposure. By then it’s already too late and it has caused costly downtimes and more importantly has put the workers at serious risk.

Here at All Trades we have gas detection kits and portable instruments that have been already used in industrial plants and other potentially hazardous work areas (e.g. post-fire sites, underground utilities). You can contact us today if you require more information about our gas detection equipment.