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Safety first - for people, plants and processes

A lot has happened since explosions in the port of Tianjin took the lives of 165 people in 2015. Chemical warehouses and production plants are not allowed any longer close to residential areas but are being relocated to dedicated chemical parks. This is only one consequence of the current Five-Year Plan, which focuses on environmental protection and already has a strong impact on China’s chemical industry. Some companies take the relocation as an opportunity for an upgrade to state-of-the-art equipment, anticipating the shut-down of their production if they don’t. Modern chemical parks are equipped with fresh water and energy management systems and wastewater recycling plants, which adds to a positive effect on the environment.
In 2017, a four-month nationwide inspection campaign on workplace security took place, covering all regions and industries. The inspectors were to “severely punish those who violate work safety laws and rules, and at the same time […] eliminate potential hazards and promote strict implementation of safety measures”. Last year, the Chinese Ministry of Emergency Management was established, which is responsible for emergency management, work safety and regulations on hazardous chemicals.
However, the changes have not yet filtered down effectively to the workforce level everywhere. Only this March, 78 people died in the explosion of a chemical plant in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, another 600 were injured. It is the deadliest industrial accident in the country since the Tianjin explosions. Three weeks earlier, three workers workers were injured and three more died from hydrogen sulphide poisoning in a chemical company in Dazhou, Sichuan province, while cleaning a tank. The accident revealed that dangerous goods were not identified clearly and the safety management in the loading zone was insufficient.
Training the workforce in safe procedures is one way to decrease the number of work-related deaths. Another one is reducing the number of people present on the shop floor and thus eliminating the source of human error. Developing containment concepts and automating processes is the way to go in any case, if the Chinese chemical industry wants to stay competitive in the international market despite rising labor cost. Distributed control systems lead to better process control, cost reduction and improved documentation. At the latest when a Chinese manufacturer wants to supply international companies, it is time to invest in safety measures. Usually, these companies audit their suppliers, which have to comply with Western safety and quality standards.

AchemAsia, 21-23 May 2019 at NECC Shanghai, is the event to meet leading international companies in plant and process safety. They offer the latest in equipment to enable manufacturers to play their part in the international business. AchemAsia is the international forum for sustainable chemical production and has been known as a meeting point of Asian dynamics and German engineering tradition since 1989.

 

First published on March 19, 2019, updated on March 26, 2019

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