Process Safety FAQs

Get Smart About Process Safety

Community Response to Chemical Release Emergencies

What is Process Safety?

Process Safety is a blend of engineering and management skills focused on preventing catastrophic accidents, particularly explosions, fires, and toxic releases, associated with the use of chemicals and petroleum products.

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What is the Difference Between Process Safety, Chemical Process Safety, and Chemical Safety?

Chemical Process Safety is just another name for Process Safety.  Chemical Safety pertains specifically to protection against the toxic effects of chemicals that arise in normal usage.

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What is the origin of Process Safety?

Process Safety was born on the banks of the Brandywine River in the early days of the 19th century at the E. I. du Pont black powder works.   Recognizing that even a small incident could precipitate considerable damage and loss of life, du Pont directed the works to be built and operated under very specific safety conditions.  Process Safety evolved as industry progressed through the 19th and 20th centuries, but really emerged as a industry-wide discipline following a major industrial accident in Bhopal, India, in which a catastrophic release of methyl isocyanate killed more than 3,000 people.

Visit Bhopal Information Center for more information on Bhopal incident

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How has Process Safety Progressed Since Bhopal?

In the twenty years since Bhopal, process safety has gained corporate importance, process safety expertise has extended into the general skill set of chemical and petroleum engineers and operators, and many industry-wide guidelines for process safety have been developed, largely through the efforts of CCPS.

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How is Process Safety Progress Measured?

It is important to keep in mind that process safety incidents are “high consequence, low frequency events.”  Therefore, it is possible for a plant, and even the entire industry to have declining numbers of incidents for many years, and then have a very serious incident with little or no change in operation.  Therefore, any progress in process safety must be viewed over a horizon of many years.

Most companies measure their progress in process safety by defining some kind of threshold for personal injury and property loss, and record process safety incidents exceeding that threshold for internal improvement purposes.  While a group of companies belonging to the American Chemistry Council uses a consistent threshold definition, this practice is not uniform through the industry.

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What Should I Ask the Plant in my Community About Process Safety?

Since September 11, 2001, plants have been reluctant to provide the public with details about the hazardous materials and processes they utilize.  While you may view this as secretive or uncooperative, you should keep in mind that a terrorist could use this same information to attack the plant, with the intention of hurting you.  Nonetheless, for your own safety and security, you need to know certain basic information: how the company will inform you of a process safety or security incident that could impact you, and what you should do after you’ve been informed.  If you do not have this basic information, contact the plant’s community liaison.  Other questions you may be interested in: (1) Do the Fire and Police Departments know how to respond to incidents that occur at the plant?  (2) Does the local hospital know the kinds of chemicals and other hazards that the community could be exposed to in case of an incident?

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What are the Basics I Need to Know about Emergency Preparedness?

  1.  Know the sound of the emergency alarm, the all-clear signal, and other means of emergency communication from the plant
  2. In case of an off-plant release, you will usually respond by “sheltering-in-place.”  To shelter-in-place, close all windows and doors, shut off all heating and air conditioning, and seal other openings to the outside, such as room air conditioner inlets and cracks under external doors. For more information on sheltering in place, click here.
  3. know how to evacuate if you are told to do so.  There may be several alternate routes depending on the direction of the wind.  Keep an evacuation kit handy so you don’t have to delay your escape while looking for critical items you have to take with you.
  4. The Department of Homeland Security provides a very thorough discussion of emergency preparedness at www.ready.gov

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Community Response to Chemical Release Emergencies

Steps To Assure Personal Safety:

Chemical releases are very rare, but they can happen.  So people who live or work near facilities that handle or manufacture chemicals, or who live near chemical transportation routes (rail or highway) should be prepared to take the necessary steps to assure their personal safety if a release occurs in their community.

  • If you live near a plant, contact the plant emergency planning officer and ask about emergency alerts and procedures.
  • Find out the emergency alert procedures of your city or town by contacting the local agency with responsibility for emergency management. Some municipalities with large concentrations of chemical or petroleum facilities may have “Local Emergency Planning Councils (LEPC’s)."  In others areas, emergency management may be the responsibility of the fire or police department, or may be a separate department.
  • Learn how to prepare your home and family for emergencies by obtaining the information available at www.ready.gov.
  • Be familiar with how to “Shelter-in-Place”.
  • Consider joining or forming a “Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)”.

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Typical Community Response to Chemical Release

It should first be understood that there is no such thing as a typical chemical release, so responses to each event need to be tailored to the circumstances.  In general, citizens in their homes or in public buildings should await instructions from the emergency incident commander before evacuating. It is important to await instructions to be sure to evacuate safely, for example to avoid evacuating directly into the path of the release.  While awaiting instructions begin taking steps to “Shelter-in-Place,” as sheltering is one of the most common responses.

Citizens in public open areas should move to the nearest building.  If it is obvious which way the release is traveling, move at a right angle away from the direction of the cloud.

For more information, please see “Guideline for Technical Planning for Onsite Emergencies”.

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