Fecc: Quick on the uptake

12 June 2013 18:45  [Source: ICB]

Implementation of Responsible Care is growing among chemical distributors, extending its benefits along the supply chain from producer to customer

A significant Responsible Care document on product stewardship was issued jointly last year by Fecc and Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council. It was symbolic of the way that in Europe Responsible Care has become a collaborative programme among stakeholders throughout the chemicals sector.


 Copyright: Rex Features

However, it also underlined the important role played in Europe by chemical distributors, led by Fecc, in ensuring that the principles of Responsible Care are applied along the chemicals value chain. "We need collaboration between all stakeholders in order to have a truly transformational impact," says Uta Jensen-Korte, Fecc's director general.

"The publication of the Product Stewardship Guidelines, that originated in the UK from the Chemical Business Association and the Chemical Industries Association and was jointly updated recently by Cefic and Fecc, is proof that working together pays off."

The product stewardship document, updated to take into account compliance with the EU's new Reach chemicals policy and the classification, labelling and packaging (CLP) legislation, is intended to cover the requirements of companies dealing with chemicals throughout their life cycle - from product development to storage, transport, use and eventual disposal.

Among other recent major joint initiatives by Fecc and Cefic has been the updating of the European Single Assessment Document (ESAD), which provides a system for third-party verification of the Responsible Care performance of distributors. The two associations have also been working together on guidelines for good practice in chemicals distribution.

They have also joined with the European Chemical Transport Association (ECTA), representing carriers of chemicals, to draw up guidance for the safe working at height in the chemical logistics supply chain, and are currently working on the revision of the guidance on the loading and unloading of products and safety in working with large vehicles like tankers. "We have to promote Responsible Care down the supply chain because it has such huge benefits, " says Jensen-Korte.

Fecc and its 15 national association members, as well as around 35 larger distributors with direct membership, are at the forefront of efforts to spread participation in Responsible Care, geographically and also among downstream segments handling chemicals, particularly in logistics and transport. For example, the UK's CBA has had a Responsible Care programme covering both distributors and logistics service providers in place for 20 years.

A current major issue is persuading more small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) to adopt Responsible Care. "There are difficulties for SMEs with the application of Responsible Care because they may not have the same level of human resources as larger companies," says Jensen-Korte. "But we're making a lot of progress with SMEs. I am convinced that over the next few years there will be increased numbers of SME distributors across Europe committing themselves to Responsible Care."

Commitment to Responsible Care has been steadily rising since the financial crisis of 2008 so that 21,251 employees of European distributors, equivalent to 72% of the total, were following its principles in 2011. This compared with around 50% in 2005.

"A growing number of distributors are seeing the advantages of Responsible Care while more producers want the distributors of their chemicals to be complying with it," says Peter Newport, director of CBA, the UK distributor association. "We would in fact like to see more producers actively support the application of Responsible Care along the chain because their backing at the moment is patchy."

Chemical transport is also benefiting from the use of Responsible Care

Copyright: Rex Features

In countries like the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands it is a mandatory requirement that members of the national distributor associations sign up to Responsible Care. Even in countries such as France, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic, where involvement among association member is voluntary, participation was at or over 60% in 2011. In terms of total turnover of association members the proportion was at or over 80% in France and Germany.

Nonetheless there are gaps, with Responsible Care making little or virtually no inroads in some associations. In Denmark the proportion of distributors involved into the programme was less than 20% in 2011, while the Austrian association reported that only one of its 200 distributors was following Responsible Care.

Eastern Europe is also an area with a relatively low level of Responsible Care commitment mainly because, with the exception of the Czech Republic, there is the lack of national distributor associations. It was to deal with the absence of a Responsible Care infrastructure in Eastern Europe that Fecc introduced its own Responsible Care Programme four years ago. This set up a system under which subsidiaries of its direct company members could join the programme without having to be members of a national association.

"The Fecc Responsible Care programme agreed in 2009 has been working well," says Jensen-Korte. "In the last two years we have had over 15 site applications to join the programme, mainly from subsidiaries in eastern Europe of our member companies". The latest associations to use the Fecc Responsible Care programme are the national distributor association of Spain and Portugal.

In its drive to strengthen the Responsible Care activities of distributors, Fecc has been emphasising the need for companies to undertake third-party verification (TPV) of their Responsible Care performance through the preferred ESAD auditing system.

"TPV is an additional challenge for distributors but it is worthwhile because it has a lot of benefits," says Jensen-Korte. "It is a highly effective way of improving operational efficiencies."

With some national distributor association who do not make Responsible Care involvement mandatory for their members, they stipulate that once a companies signs up to the programme they must undergo TPV assessments. In Germany, for example, 67 out of 100 distributor members of Verband Chemiehandel (VCH), the German distributor association, were voluntary Responsible Care participants last year but they all had to undertake a mandatory TPV assessment of their Responsible Care performance. As a result Germany had one of the highest numbers of TPV-assessed distributors in Europe.

Some associations, like Austria, which do not implement the Responsible Care programme, nonetheless encourage their members to use TPV systems. Those distributors can utilise, for example, assessment schemes of the International Organisation of Standardisation and occupation safety and health (OSHA) agencies.

"There are other management assessment systems but Responsible Care remains the most complete way of ensuring adequate standards of safety, health, security and the environment," explains Jensen-Korte.

ESAD is linked with the Cefic-managed Safety and Quality Assessment System (SQAS) which provides an umbrella scheme for evaluating the safety, security and environmental performance of both logistics service providers and distributors. In fact, under SQAS last year over, four times more transport service companies undertook TPV than distributors - 440 against 102, in part because the transport system has been available far longer and because it has more support from chemical manufacturers.

The number of distributors being assessed has gone up by 6% since 2007; among transport service providers it has risen by 40%; and among warehouse businesses it had gone up four-fold - showing how much auditing is expanding throughout the supply chain.

With distributors, participation in Responsible Care is seen as being a major help in complying with the supply-chain obligations under the Reach legislation. VCH believes the communication of advice and information on what customers need to do under Reach is a "central element" of the Responsible Care duties of distributors.

"The supply chain still displays a certain lack of information and occasionally downright ignorance towards the targets being followed by Reach," says Uwe Klass, VCH president, in the association's latest annual report on Responsible Care. "The Responsible Care concept can and will become an important starting point for jointly achieving the Reach targets."

Assisting customers with Reach highlights how much Responsibility Care brings distributors into areas of commitment beyond those of legal obligation, according to VCH. "The chemical trader advises the customer in all questions (on Reach) which arise from customer-specific uses," says Klass.

The Product Stewardship Guidelines also stress how closely Responsible Care and Reach are interrelated through companies and national associations working together to improve performance. Distributors are recommended not only to check that their customers can handle, use and dispose of chemicals safely but also that their suppliers have similar capabilities. Responsible Care for distributors is now about carrying out duties both downstream and upstream in the supply chain.

By: John Baker
+44 20 8652 3214

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