Our highest priority: Chemical facility safety in America

Americans rely on chemistry every day, from the life-enhancing technologies it helps put at our fingertips, to the countless medicines it makes possible to improve or even save our lives. Over $100 billion in new domestic manufacturing investments and the jobs of nearly 800,000 men and women around the country depend on chemistry as well.

In order for chemistry to improve our lives responsibly, chemical facilities that produce, store or use chemicals must always put safety at the core of their operations. As I made clear at this year’s Global Chemical Regulations Conference in Baltimore, a company that doesn’t abide by regulations, or that fails to put safety at the forefront, is not living up to its highest priority – protecting its employees, communities and the environment.

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Executive Order 13650, signed by President Obama last August, calls for all stakeholders to come together to help make U.S. chemical facilities safer and more secure. As the president noted, one step forward should be improving the effectiveness of existing regulatory programs and increasing coordination among the agencies that oversee them.

There is another proven way the federal government can increase chemical facility safety around the country – leveraging industry performance initiatives like Responsible Care®, the American Chemistry Council’s world class environment, health safety and security program, which is mandatory for all members.

Responsible Care companies represent 85 percent of all U.S. chemical manufacturing capacity and have a worker safety rate nearly five times better than the entire U.S. manufacturing sector, and nearly three times better than the chemical industry overall. And through a commitment to continuous improvement, they have reduced recordable injury and illness rates by 79 percent since 1990.

By recognizing private sector initiatives like Responsible Care, the federal government can incentivize the creation of similar safety programs across the chemical sector, which could help other facilities, including small and medium size operations, better comply with safety regulations.

What government should not do is pursue a regulatory requirement around the use of so-called “inherently safer technology,” or IST.

Inherently safer technology refers to the use of alternative designs, equipment or chemicals, or the modification of how chemicals are stored or used. Mandating the wholesale adoption of IST would force companies to change their entire business formula – from what goes into their chemistries, to the processes they rely on to make them, which could compromise their products.

Even without a mandate, the chemical industry has voluntarily led the way in implementing safer technologies. One key elementunder ACC’s Responsible Care Process Safety Code is that companies must consider safer alternatives along with many other potential measures to reduce risk.

Adding a specific IST regulatory requirement would therefore not only be duplicative and unnecessary, it would stretch agency resources to implement – time and money that could be put to better use.

EPA understood this more than a decade ago when it developed a program that would require companies to submit a Risk Management Plan for the prevention of an accidental chemical release – but purposely withheld a regulatory requirement mandating consideration of IST. EPA officials at thetime found little added benefit to mandating one specific component of what companies could consider when developing their risk management plans.

The same reasoning applies today. Rather than developingredundant regulatory programs that will create additional complexity without providing any measurable benefit, regulators must focus on identifying and addressing what led to the recent, troubling and tragic events in the firstplace.

One place to start is how federal, state and local officials currently coordinate and share information about chemical facilities. Agencies should step up outreach and coordination efforts with the regulated community and with emergency responders and local communities.

For example, Responsible Care companies work with emergency responders and plant communities to coordinate response plans, maintain dialogue about relevant risks and their impact on human health, safety, security and the environment. They share relevant chemical information and emergency response plans with those who need to know it.

In order for our industry to grow to its fullest potential, it’s critical that we work together to ensure a practical, effective regulatory system is in place – one that enhances the protection of human health and the environment and that works to ensure the safe manufacture and responsible handling of chemicals throughout the supply chain.

ACC believes that any company that doesn’t abide by regulations, or that fails to put safety at the forefront, is not living up to its obligations to protect its employees or its communities.  That’s why ACC’s Responsible Care® members have chosen to put the safety of employees and surrounding plant communities at the core of how our member companies do business. 

As our member companies continue to invest billions ofdollars to enhance the safety of their operations, we agree more can be done to reach facilities beyond ACC’s membership, and we are committed to working with Congress and regulators to ensure that America continues to benefit from a safe and strong chemical industry. 

Dooley is president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council.