10 July 2007 20:12 [Source: ICIS news]
Carolyn Merritt, chairwoman of the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), told a Senate hearing that her agency soon will assemble “a panel of outside experts, representing a broad spectrum of stakeholders, to facilitate the development of leading safety indicators in the petrochemical sector”.
Testifying on lessons learned from the March 2005 explosion and fire at the BP Texas City, Texas, refinery and other process industry accidents, Merritt said that BP and many other companies fail to adequately gauge the safety of their operations because of a narrow focus on workers’ personal safety.
Merritt noted that multiple internal audits at the BP Texas City refinery revealed deteriorating conditions at the facility during several years leading up to the 2005 accident that killed 15 workers and injured 180 others.
However, Merritt said, BP’s “responses focused primarily on improving personal safety and overlooked growing process safety risks”.
“Like many other companies, BP relied excessively on a single measurement - occupational injuries and illnesses (the lost-time injury rate) - to assess safety performance,” she said.
“In a complex facility such as a refinery, the occupational injury rate is a measure of personal safety but does not predict the likelihood of a catastrophic process-related event,” she told the Senate subcommittee on infrastructure security.
She said the safety board has already asked industry officials and labour unions to propose “a consensus standard for new process safety leading indicators to help businesses and government better assess these risks before serious accidents occur”.
Merritt noted that a leading indicators safety approach has been used for years in the nuclear power industry and “provides a common currency for different facilities to measure and compare system safety performance”.
A safety board spokesman said that in addition to industry and labour representatives, the expert panel that Merritt plans to convene will include environmental interests, emergency responders and government safety and security authorities, such as officials from the Department of Homeland Security.
The spokesman said neither specific panel members nor a start date for the study have been determined.
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