Preventing low-frequency, high-consequence events such as catastrophic fires, explosions, chemical releases, and structural collapses is the focus of WorkSafeBC's new Process Safety initiative. Process safety is a form of risk assessment that aims to identify any significant hazards and threats at a worksite and implement critical controls to mitigate any harm. The goal is to prevent the release of any highly hazardous substances — such as flammable and explosive chemicals, toxic gases, and combustible dust — that could lead to catastrophic consequences for workers and the public.
The initiative, launched in early 2018, is focused on employers in industries such as chemical manufacturing and processing, oil and gas, and others.
The multi-disciplinary WorkSafeBC team is comprised of prevention officers and managers, engineers, risk analysts and human factors specialists. In the first year of the initiative the team is inspecting and engaging with at least 50 employers across the province. In the pulp and paper sector for instance, the risk of chlorine dioxide is present, and the team is working with employers in that industry to assess the risk and evaluate their critical control measures.
"We are looking at the types of hazards and the risks they pose that are specific to each employer, and how they are managing and controlling those risks," says Gordon Harkness, Manager, Risk Analysis Unit. "We want employers to manage the risks that are created through their processes," he says.
In addition to inspections related to process safety, two information sessions for employers have been held in 2018 - one in Prince George and one in Richmond; a third session organized in co-ordination with the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC is scheduled to take place in November in Richmond.
"We see process safety as the next logical step in the journey that we've been working on with health and safety in the province," says Budd Phillips, Manager, Prevention Field Services. "We're now going beyond the idea of what is hurting you today — the day-to-day occupational hazards and exposure issues — and into the catastrophic potential of different industrial processes."
When process safety fails, the result can affect large numbers of workers, and potentially the public, often with devastating consequences such as serious injury or loss of life. A historic example of a catastrophic process safety-related incident is the ammonia-nitrate explosion that occurred at the West Fertilizer Company facility in West, Texas, in 2013. The tragic incident resulted in the death of 15 people and injured more than 200 others.
"Ultimately, this is about reducing the risk of a catastrophic event and keeping workers and the public safe from harm," says Phillips.