Rather than incorporating environmental, health and safety (EH&S) requirements and goals at a point in the development cycle where they virtually always add costs and produce delays, experience has shown that early consideration of EH&S issues as an integral part of the design process can achieve cost savings and improve time to market.
In 2001, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Foundation published the results of its efforts to develop an approach for enhancing process development through earlier and better integration of EH&S reviews. The suggested approach draws on well-recognized practices embedded in inherent safety, pollution prevention, green chemistry and other EH&S paradigms. The intent is to enhance existing development processes, not to try to replace them. Thus, several critical training needs exist, including:
Training focused on specific tools that process engineers and others can use in the development process to ensure EH&S issues are recognized and considered even at times when EH&S experts are not available for team input.
Training that will help EH&S professionals effectively contribute to the development teams as members and/or external resources.
This article provides an overview of the approach and highlights the associated training issues, as well as the enhanced opportunities for staff with such training.**
Typically, companies review and address EH&S requirements through a series of independent single-topic reviews of process designs. The AIChE Foundation outlined an approach for enhancing process development through earlier and better integration of EH&S reviews. Called MERITT (Maximizing EH&S Returns by Integrating Tools and Talents), the approach draws on critical components of inherent safety, pollution prevention, green chemistry and related paradigms through selective adoption and adaptation of existing tools, skills and knowledge resources.
MERITT recognizes that early process development activities have the highest potential for leverage; that basic chemistry determines waste generation and process safety hazards; and that the application of "good ideas" late in the process life cycle can be difficult and costly.
MERITT draws on the following three key concepts to achieve optimization:
Driving evaluations to the earliest stage in the process.
Linking successive stages and evaluations.
Expanding information and knowledge exchange.
Staff training on the approach and the available tools is critical to realizing the full benefit of each concept.
MERITT draws on the existing best practices of organizations that are recognized leaders in developing and conducting coordinated EH&S evaluations through the use of tools and protocols that support their own programs. These tools and protocols generally are built on pollution prevention, design for the environment, inherent safety, green chemistry and/or green technology. MERITT also recognizes that the focus of most research chemists is on molecule development, not process issues, and that the lack of familiarity with EH&S paradigms can be overcome through training, tools, communication of actual improvements and access to EH&S resources.
MERITT is not fundamentally new. Instead, it can be described most accurately as creative adaptation ," rethinking, reorganizing and redirecting the many pieces that already exist and work individually, but have yet to be fully integrated or coordinated. MERITT offers ways to enhance these processes through increased awareness and recognition throughout all levels of the organization ," from engineers and chemists to project managers and business leaders. It emphasizes the need to think about the various concepts at the same time, to infuse appropriate tools at the various project stages, and to put the right type of knowledge to work at the right time.
New development processes are not necessarily required to accomplish this. Instead, existing processes can be expanded or adjusted.
MERITT is particularly well suited to processes structured in sequential stages with fairly well defined stage gates, but it is applicable to almost any development format. The construct of MERITT is more along the lines of an enabler than that of a traditional methodology. Because many variables exist in development processes, MERITT was crafted with enough flexibility to ensure the basic approach can be tailored to accommodate different requirements.
Fig. 1 shows the pieces of the framework. The implementation elements portion consists of five steps and provides a format for conducting EH&S evaluations within the construct of the development process.
Fig. 2 presents a simplified diagram that represents the linkage of these five steps. It parallels a similar process that has been endorsed fairly widely for conducting pollution prevention assessments.