Recent tragic events involving facilities that store or use chemicals have gained the attention of all Americans, and our thoughts continue to be with those living in impacted areas. For ACC and its members, these events serve as a reminder of why we have chosen to put the safety of employees and surrounding communities at the core of how our member companies do business.
Spreading a culture of Responsible Care®
All ACC members are bound together by their common commitment to Responsible Care, our industry’s world-class environmental, health, safety and security performance initiative.
Although Responsible Care companies represent 85% of the chemical manufacturing capacity in the United States, accidents like those in West, Texas, and most recently near Charleston, West Virginia, remind us that tragic incidents can still occur.
These accidents often involve facilities outside ACC’s membership that do not share our commitment to Responsible Care. They are known as “outliers”; they operate “off-the-radar”; and yet, understandably, they become the focal point of an entire industry — of an entire country — when accidents do occur.
At the same time, these incidents inspire Responsible Care companies to continue to step up their performance – to work even harder to improve our worker safety rate, which is already five times better than the entire U.S. manufacturing sector, and two times better than the chemical industry overall.
The fact is, industry initiatives like Responsible Care can and do instill a culture that has put our industry at the forefront of manufacturing when it comes to safety – and similar programs can do the same for others.
Programs that work vs. the promise of old ideas
By studying what works for private sector initiatives like Responsible Care, the federal government can incentivize the creation of similar safety and security improvement programs across the broader chemical and manufacturing sectors.
For example, two components of Responsible Care, the Process Safety Code and the Security Code, require members to develop sound process safety and emergency response plans, which help companies minimize the risk of an incident involving their facilities.
On top of industry programs, several opportunities exist to enhance the effectiveness of current federal approaches to chemical industry safety and security.
As President Obama wisely noted in Executive Order 13650, the federal government has the power to improve the effectiveness of its own regulatory programs while at the same time increasing the coordination among the agencies that oversee security and safety. Without sound coordination and oversight from the government, virtually no regulation could succeed as it was intended.
The idea of implementing “inherently safer technology” (IST) at chemical facilities, however, not only fails to address one of the greatest areas of concern – those outlier facilities that fail to comply with regulations – it is, as one senior EPA official put it, a “monumentally difficult” feat. At worst, implementing IST would create a regulatory quagmire, where federal agencies would be deluged with thousands of complex IST evaluations while lacking the expertise, manpower, and authority to make a meaningful difference.
Instead, these agencies should step up outreach and coordination efforts with the regulated community and with emergency responders and local communities, while at the same time leveraging industry performance initiatives like Responsible Care.
Continuous improvement toward 100 percent compliance
Policies and regulations in place today can and do help improve the safety and security of chemical operations – and through better implementation and coordination between agencies, they can and will reach those facilities located in remote, rural communities that may not even be aware they are out of compliance with the rest of the industry.
As we all come together to achieve these aims, we must also keep in mind that proven, practical and effective means to enhance the safety and security of chemical facilities already exist, and they are owed our country’s full attention. This is a far better approach than rehashing old ideas which, though they have been floated many times before, time and again reveal they cannot light a single path to progress.