Safety remains top priority

The chemical sector is well represented throughout Africa with a strong presence in southern Africa where chemicals such as liquid fuels, plastic products, inorganic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and rubber products are produced. This sector is expected to remain a destination for further investment as business in traditional markets, such as USA, Japan and Europe turn to lower-cost producers to manufacture chemicals. Yet, for the continent to continue competing for business, many African countries need to employ measures that will ensure the health and safety of the public, their employees and of those handling chemicals.

“Safety in the chemical industry is becoming an issue of increasing concern in Africa where the industry development is based on a strong foreign investment component,” says Louise Lindeque, manager of Responsible Care in South Africa. Responsible Care is a safety, health and environmental initiative under the custodianship of The Chemical and Allied Industries’ Association.

Lindeque attended the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) course on ‘Promoting chemical safety management in the African region’ at the Bergische University of Wuppertal (BUW), Wuppertal, Germany from November 16-20, 2009. The OPCW is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention that strives for the non-proliferation of chemical weapons amongst its 188 member states across the globe. It has developed a range of programmes to promote international cooperation, implement support and chemical weapons protection which relate to the economic and technological development of State Parties.

The OPCW course was designed for persons responsible for promoting chemical safety management within the chemical industry, and was attended by African countries including Ivory Coast, Sudan, Mauritius, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa and Burundi. The topics ranged from a modern approach to safety and loss prevention to HAZOP (a basic process risk management tool), state-of-the-art Occupational Safety and Health Regulation in Germany and Europe and environmental protection. It was led by Professor Dr. Ing Uli Barth, professor of Methods of Safety Engineering at the University of Wuppertal.

“The approach that involves greater emphasis on technological measures to control hazards and failures that could cause loss of life and property, has to be embraced by process industries in African countries,” explains Lindeque, adding, “Knowledge and skills will ultimately enhance the effectiveness of Safety Management Systems. These help to ensure long-term sustainability and effective SHE (safety, health and environmental) performance.”

Also covered in the course material was that of computational modeling to ensure safe plant design, hazard indices and basic process safety management information. Students were able to learn about disaster management and emergency response at the local fire station in Wuppertal, while a site visit to the Bayer chemical production site demonstrated the importance of close cooperation between the emergency response departments and chemical manufacturing industries.

“There is therefore a large demand for training in engineering process, quality and environmental management systems, as well as safety aspects for chemical process applications in the industry from governmental agencies and academic institutions where the new generation of chemist and engineers in Africa are educated,” says Lindeque, commenting on the overall situation of health and safety within the chemical industry.

Responsible Care holds a quarterly Process Safety Forum where member companies are able to share best practice and pool resources, particularly for the benefit of small companies that lack resources for training. This is also an opportunity to keep members updated of their progress and receive feedback of the experiences and concerns arising from workplace incidents.

“As a key outcome of this course, African State Party delegates are now able to implement modern technical safety practices and fulfill their responsibilities to develop sustainable safety management within to the chemical industry,” concludes Lindeque.

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