Incidents: Occupational and Process Safety: other worlds?

Column januari 2014

In the magazine of the VNCI (Dutch Chemical Industry) of October 2013 an article is published about a Lost Time Injury (LTI) analysis of incidents in 2012 that was made on the basis of a survey among the VNCI members. This is part of the Responsible Care program. It involves 37 companies and 81 incidents. The consequences of the incidents are mainly fractures, bruises and sprains. Chemistry related accidents were rare (burns, intoxication or poisoning and skin irritation). The LTI rate is again lower than in other sectors. Causes: 'unsafe acts of in- and external employees’.

Occupational safety and process safety: other worlds?

The LTI provides a limited view of safety. In addition, since the BP disaster in Texas (2005) it is recognized that occupational safety differs from process safety. But is that true in all aspects?

In the article, a representative of SABIC indicates that unsafe behavior is the main reason for the LTI accidents. Then he mentions the underlying causes such as ‘different tasks’ or ‘other interests prevailing (e.g. economic). That goes beyond the afore mentioned 'unsafe acts of staff’. These underlying factors are in my experience important underlying factors for process safety as well! It is therefore unfortunate that the link is not made with Process Safety. I would argue that the underlying causes of both LTI’s and Process safety incidents are considered. This gives a stronger base for safety improvement. After all, not following a procedure can lead to an LTI incident but equally to an explosion with three deaths (Geleen, 2003). The underlying Latent Failure in the organization (Tripod term) may be that the quality of the procedures is not adequate or that the system of supervision is not adequate. A rigorous distinction between occupational and process safety is therefore undesirable:The latent failures in the organization are indeed often common to both categories. A cross fertilization to address the latent failures in the organization would be beneficial.

The idea that the underlying causes of occupational incidents and  process safety incidents are different hinders the improvement of safety. Let we revise the idea. For the VNCI: revise the  Responsible Care survey for incidents in 2013!