Responsible Care®: An enabler for success
Abdel Hadi AlSuhaimi, Executive President, S-Chem, and Chairman, GPCA Responsible Care Committee, provides a rare insight into the chemical industry’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and narrates how companies leveraged the Responsible Care® program to ensure the health and safety of their contractors and employees, while maintaining their operations uninterrupted
How did the Responsible Care® program, which has the environment, health, safety, and security in its heart, help companies overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Responsible Care® (RC) helped companies and businesses to conduct their operations in a responsible manner through the RC management system that outlines a framework of processes, procedures, and practices to ensure safe production, minimum emissions (to air, land and water) and reduced waste. Adoption of the RC14001 management system provided a good foundation for plans that enabled companies to get through the pandemic. COVID related measures and plans (e.g., minimum staffing, hygiene and disinfecting, work-from-home, temperature monitoring, return-to-work, etc.) are all in line with the Responsible Care principles, thus minimizing the impact of COVID on the industry’s ability to safeguard the health of employees and sustain their operations, which provide many products used in hospitals and the medical field.
The pandemic demonstrated chemical companies’ resilience and preparedness to face the crisis. To protect workers, companies rolled out impressive return to work plans, trained employees, and integrated broad health and safety measures to protect their employees, their families, and neighbouring communities. How did S-Chem approach the EHS&S implications to safeguard its employees?
This pandemic was a crisis the world had never seen before. The challenge was how to protect people, continue the safe operation of facilities and reduce logistical impact. Furthermore, COVID-19 was spreading quickly throughout the whole world and governments were struggling to cope with this “invisible” enemy that we knew very little about. Things were constantly changing, and we had to keep up with new developments (precautionary protocols, ‘stay at home’ orders, lockdowns in cities or regions, etc.) We had to act quickly to come up with new work schedules, minimum manpower levels, split work teams and increased IT capabilities to allow more people to work remotely to support business needs.
Resilience was demonstrated by developing a response protocol, and re-visiting business continuity and emergency readiness plans that were rolled out immediately. We had to think of ways to make sure resources were available to continue process hazard analysis (PHA) studies and compliance audits. Moreover, we re-examined turnaround plans, and worked with our contractors and vendors for safe turnaround execution. Non-critical projects and maintenance activities were re-scheduled.
Achieving a balance between protecting people and maintaining our core operations was the focus of the manpower planning process. As a result, we minimized the spread of the virus as much as possible while maintaining safe operations.
A quick response plan was established at the outset of the pandemic to handle an emerging situation. The plan defined different response levels, depending on the severity of the COVID spread in the area and was kept evergreen as more information became available. The pandemic taught us a valuable lesson, which is to continuously review and update company internal plans to ensure their effectiveness for different scenarios in times of emergencies, pandemics, or natural disasters.
Today, more than one year on since the pandemic erupted, what are the implications that companies, in general, and S-Chem in specific, are still facing? What are the measures that S-Chem has put in place to mitigate ongoing challenges and risks and were they aligned with the RC relevant codes of management practices?
I think our industry is in a better place today than it was at the beginning of the pandemic for several reasons. Many companies have demonstrated resilience in the way they dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. They quickly adopted new measures to protect their most important capital assets – the people. These measures included restricting mass gatherings, making most business meetings virtual, social distancing, limiting non-essential visitors, temperature monitoring of employees and visitors, promoting hygienic practices, raising awareness among staff and contractor employees, and complying with instructions from ministries of health and other agencies.
Ongoing challenges to companies and businesses include logistics and supply chain challenges, the spread of new virus variants in many parts of the world, the behavior of some people (seen through increased number of COVID cases recently) who do not take precautions seriously, availability of external resources, and travel restrictions. As a way of mitigation, we put concerted efforts in communication campaigns to raise awareness among employees and plan for potential business interruptions, such as inbound / outbound materials and products, and sought viable alternatives. Furthermore, fluctuation in supply and demand for products obviously impacted markets, and market allocations had to be reviewed and adjusted accordingly.
The results from the latest Responsible Care Performance Metrics report show great EHS&S progress in the chemical industry in the region, but they also identify gaps and areas for improvement. What are your thoughts on the report’s findings and how can the industry drive better result in the future?
RC Performance Metrics report has shown great progress in several performance indicators. For example, Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) has indicated good trends in recent years. When compared with members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), we can see GPCA member companies achieved better TRIRs over time.
Unfortunately, we saw an increase in the number of fatalities, particularly in contractor workforce. There were six fatalities in 2020 compared with zero incident related deaths. In my opinion, we can improve contractor safety performance by establishing a unified contractor safety program which chemical and petrochemical manufacturers in the region can agree on, sharing a common database and reducing workforce attrition.
Growth in the industry should consider technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint, as sustainability demands that the industry continues to invest in such technologies.
How important are climate change, carbon efficiency and sustainability targets for improving the environmental performance of the chemical industry in the region and mitigating our impact on the planet? Is introducing specific targets and commitments for the chemical industry, even if they are voluntary, something you support? If yes, why, and if not, why not?
Climate change, though disputed by few, is a reality if we consider global warming, heatwaves, droughts, floods, and forest fires. Earth temperatures and carbon dioxides are now at their highest recorded levels in history. Climate change has serious implications on the world’s ability to produce enough food production for increasing population. Moreover, some plants and animals are becoming or will become extinct in the foreseeable future.
Environmental regulations in the region have kept up with world standards. The chemical industry is committed to mitigating the impact of climate change. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on environmental projects to upgrade plants to control emissions and comply with environmental limits. I believe it is essential for the industry to accelerate plans to control emissions and contribute to creating a circular economy. One way is to introduce new environmental limits through a collaborative effort between regulators and the industry to affect a positive impact on climate change globally.
As the Chairman of the GPCA Responsible Care Committee, could you share your plans for the future? What is the role of the Committee in promoting the role of the industry in the region and globally, and safeguarding its interests and what sort of areas are you seeking to focus on in the near term?
I am honoured to have been recently selected to chair the GPCA RC Committee. I hope to continue the good work initiated by my predecessor and the committee members. There are several areas of opportunities when it comes to the EHS&S space, such as contractor safety, process safety, product stewardship and environmental compliance to name a few. I would encourage our RC Committee to focus their efforts on these areas, so that we can collectively elevate our EHS&S performance.
It is exciting that we will have a new network that will be concentrating on process safety. I am certain that given the number of process related incidents experienced by GPCA member companies we can extract valuable lessons from those process safety events through this network of process safety experts. Distribution incidents remain as a concern to our industry which, in my view, can be better handled through the adoption of the Operation Clean Sweep program. I hope that we will be able to have all our member companies take part in this program as it represents good product stewardess.
Our manufacturing facilities launched several projects and initiatives to stay in compliance with local and international environmental laws. Sharing best practices and approaches towards compliance with regulations can benefit all stakeholders involved.