CSB to Investigate Deepwater Horizon Incident

photo :Oilonline.com

I'm very pleased to hear that the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has been invited to investigate the causes of the explosion on the Transocean/BP oil rig, which occurred on 20th April.

The CSB takes a very holistic approach to its investigations, looking at technical factors but very importantly, the organisational, cultural and human factors which may have contributed to such an incident.

An additional benefit of a CSB investigation is the fact that CSB is capable of producing excellent material to share all of the learnings with the wider community. The video  'anatomy of a disaster' about Texas City is a must see for chemical industry professionals.

In a letter to Senator Henry Waxman, the CSB Chairman, John Bresland, has agreed that the investigation will look for similarities with the BP Texas City explosion but stressed the importance that the investigation be carried out without preconceptions and that all of the underlying causes and factors are thoroughly examined.

This point is essential. Politicians and some media outlets have been very quick to condemn BP as 'guilty'. Some of the accusations may prove to be valid but this can only be fairly determined with a thorough and proper investigation of all of the issues and all of the parties involved.


UK Emissions Data Shows Impact of Recession

 photo : DECC

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change has released provisional 2009 figures for UK greenhouse gas emissions.

At a first glance, the figures appear to tell a positive story, with the UK set to meet its pledge to cut CO2 emissions by 20% from 1990 levels in 2010. However on closer inspection, it can be seen that emissions have been more or less steady since 1995 and the big drop occurred in 2009 as a result of the global recession and a significant drop in manufacturing output. It is likely, therefore, that similar reductions have occurred throughout Europe and North America.

From a social and economic perspective, a reduction in output is counterproductive. If manufacturing capacity is lost in Europe and North America, it is unlikely to be replaced at the same location.

It is absolutely right to focus on reducing emissions but innovation and good engineering practice is the way to achieve this. The 2009 figures create a positive illusion but the reality is that we have a long way to go to achieve sustainable emissions reductions.


Bhopal Arrests - Too Little and Too Late

photo : ibtimes.com

Much  press coverage this week about the sentences given to former Union Carbide empoyees in relation to the Bhopal disaster which occurred on 3rd December 1984, when the plant released 42 tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, exposing more than 500,000 people to toxic gases.

Rightly, in this blog's view, the Indian Press and much of the world's press have expressed their disgust at the lenient sentences and the fact that nothing was done to bring the US based former Union Carbide head, Warren Anderson, to justice.

Bhopal was an incident that was simply waiting to happen. There were very many 'obvious' issues which could and should have been addressed by a company with the experience, expertise and capability of Union Carbide
  • Capital expenditure had been minimised  
  • General cost cutting had led to poor working conditions and an inadequate inspection regime
  • Safety rules were inadequate and operators were instructed to ignore them
  • Training was cut back drastically to cut costs
  • Workers were forced to use manuals in English, even though very few could understand the language
  • Some safety features had been dismantled or disabled
  • Safety systems were inadequately designed
  • Supervision was reduced to save cost
  • Poor morale led to an exodus of skilled personnel to better and safer jobs
Chemical manufacturers have a duty-of-care to employees and the general public. Chemical industry professionals receive years of training in order to fulfill this duty. For managers with the right training and experience, issues such as those listed above are easy to identify and address. Managers, at all levels and in any chemical manufacturing company, should be capable of spotting and addressing such major issues. If this isn't they case, they should not be in the role.