Chemical Safety: No Room for Accidents

Safety practices with chemicals are becoming increasingly more important as employers are realizing the harsh effects associated with them. Chemicals can contribute to causing fires and explosions and be very damaging to the human body as well. However, it is not the chemical itself that is to blame for most chemical accidents; unfortunately, most chemical accidents either include employee error or equipment failure. Bryan Haywood cited a recent study that included the major factors associated with chemical accidents and chemical-related equipment failures, below are the findings:

A study of equipment failures in the process industries indicates human and organizational errors as the major cause. One in five accidents caused by equipment failures in the chemical process industries are the result of human and organizational errors. Major factors in equipment failures included:

  • Poor contractor control
  • Failure to follow procedures
  • Lack of planning
  • Poor management and supervision; and
  • Simple misjudgments

After looking through this list, it leads me to wonder what can be done to counteract some of these factors. One of the main and most effective ways to cut down on employee errors is to implement proper training. How are employees supposed to understand the risks and health hazards associated with chemicals and equipment if they are not trained? Looking a bit further into the study, Haywood also identifies the types of equipment that are deemed most likely to experience issues and lead to accidents.

The study also identified the equipment most likely to fail and cause accidents.

  • Piping systems (25%)
  • Reactors (14%)
  • Storage tanks (14%)
  • Process vessels (10%)
  • Heat transfer equipment (8%)

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So in addition to employee training to help reduce the employee negligence factor, equipment should also be inspected regularly to verify that all components are in acceptable working order. One big mistake that many businesses make is that they don’t inspect their equipment often enough, they just assume it is working if no other problems are occurring. However, failure to inspect equipment can lead to catastrophic events including major chemical spills, fires, and even large explosions. Haywood also states:

The study, a joint research project by Aalto University in Finland and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia1, looked in detail at 549 accidents reported by the Japanese Failure Knowledge Database in 2011. In total, two thirds of these involved the chemical process industries, of which 284 cases involved equipment failures.

The study revealed that about 78% of equipment failures in the Chemical Process Industry (CPI) are technically oriented including design and human/technical interface errors. Most frequent equipment involves in accidents is piping 25%, because of large number and complexity. The second are reactors 14% because of their general risky nature. The results of proportions of accident causing equipment are in good agreement with earlier average data. The study showed that single variables are capable of causing reactor accidents in over 50% of cases, while in piping systems there are typically 2.5 accident contributors.

Taking all of this information into consideration, it is easy to see that training, equipment inspection, and proper safety practices should be put into place to provide protection against chemical related equipment accidents.

Resource: safteng.net, by Bryan Haywood 08. June 2013

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