It is "critical" that chemical facilities carry out safety reviews before they resume operations after shutdowns put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus Covid-19, according to the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA).

 

"A significant number, likely the majority" of chemical incidents at plants happen during start up, the trade body said in a guidance document released on 18 May to help companies reopen facilities safely. In the US, incidents are five times more likely to take place then than during normal operations, according to US data cited by the ICCA.

The pandemic has led to "unique circumstances at many sites", in that some entire plants have been shut for weeks, it said.

 

In the chemical industry, it is common for individual processes to be shut down for maintenance, inspection or other reasons, the ICCA said. But it is uncommon for an entire plant to be shut down, and even more so for weeks, potentially without staff onsite conducting preventative maintenance and inspections.

 

A safety review can help companies assess any issues that may need to be addressed before restarting the plant, according to the trade body.

Safe restart procedures will vary by operation, but the ICCA outlined four steps that a general approach could follow:

  • documenting the state of operations "as found", such as where chemicals have been stored and their environmental conditions;
  • create a startup plan, or revise the existing one based on the current situation;
  • review training needs and consider drilling restart procedures with employees; and
  • proceed with caution – and consider allocating a dedicated employee to monitor the startup process.

 

The guidance document is being circulated to chemical manufacturing companies around the world via their national chemical associations. And the ICCA is translating it into several languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Hindi, Mandarin, Thai, Malay and Korean.

 

Indian incident

styrene gas leak in India caused at least 11 deaths and hundreds of hospitalisations on 7 May as a plant tried to restart production after a 44-day shutdown.

The Indian government is amending and updating some of its existing chemicals rules after the accident, in an attempt to plug regulatory loopholes exposed as plants readied to resume operations.

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