History | AIChE

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Looking back...

December 3, 1984, water contamination of a tank of methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India initiated a series of events that let to a catastrophic toxic release, causing more than 3,000 fatalities and injuring over 100,000.

Immediately after, leaders from the chemical industry asked AIChE to lead a collaborative effort to eliminate catastrophic process incidents by advancing state of the art technology and management practices, serving as the premier resource for information on process safety, supporting process safety in engineering, and promoting process safety as a key industry value. And so began the industry response to the tragic event.

On March 25, 1985, AIChE formed the Center for Chemical Process Safety with seventeen charter member companies.  CCPS quickly set out to publish its first process safety guideline book, Guidelines for Hazard Evaluation Procedures, and by 1990, more than a dozen guideline books had been published, along with CCPS’ call to action publication, A Challenge to Commitment.  In these initial publications, CCPS first codified the critical elements of process safety and provided key tools to continually improve process safety programs.  Focused workshops and international conferences provided opportunities for communal learning and discussions regarding process safety and for the exploration of new ideas and important developments relevant to the chemical industry.

CCPS continues to address the most important process safety needs and encourage an overall culture of process safety. Over 230 members now participate in CCPS, including most of the world’s leading chemical, petroleum, pharmaceutical and related manufacturing companies.  CCPS’ extensive body of work marks the progress made in these areas and it continues to expand a catalog of over 100 books and products, build on a legacy of 21 successful international conferences, and cultivate the Safety in Chemical Engineering Education (SAChE) university curriculum program.

…and reaching forward

The world has changed over the last two decades.  In today’s global economy, technology that was unheard of in 1984 is now readily available.  Little-developed parts of the globe have become major production centers.  Specialty chemicals have become commodities, while new applications have arisen.  Through all these changes, the job of process safety has evolved, but the need remains constant.

Since 1984 CCPS has helped industry develop tools to keep our workplaces and communities safer, even as technology and businesses have become more complex. The results have been heartening, but also sobering.  Since 1984, there has not been another accident having as strong an industry-wide impact or receiving as much global attention as Bhopal.  According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, since 1992 onsite fatalities from process safety incidents have dropped by over 60%.  Fatalities, when they occur, have been contained to the plant site, and when off-site releases have occurred, emergency procedures have kept injuries low.

On the other hand, the US Chemical Safety Board has identified 167 incidents in the last 25 years based on chemical reactivity alone, mostly at smaller manufacturers and companies whose main business was not chemistry.  Nearly all of these incidents could have been prevented had basic process safety guidelines and references been consulted.

As CCPS becomes a global organization, disseminating process safety resources and information into China, India and South America, the mission remains clear.  We must continue to be a beacon within the chemical, petroleum, pharmaceutical and related industries.  To achieve this, we must evolve as an organization in order to maintain relevance and offer utility within a sector that is itself constantly changing.  Second, we must expand this central core of companies and work to find common threads to better promote the culture of process safety.  Our work is far from done.