SOCMA makes a momentous move

Replacing Responsible Care is anything but irresponsible.

By Mark Rosenzweig

In mid-September, the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA), Washington, D.C., announced that it was dropping the Responsible Care program, which it had licensed from the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Arlington, Va. This does not mean, however, that SOCMA, which has about 280 member companies including many involved in batch processing, is backing away from a commitment to improving the  environmental, health, safety and security (EHS&S) performance of its members, explains Joseph Acker, SOCMA’s president. Rather the move reflects a rethinking by the trade group on how best to achieve real results.

In place of Responsible Care, SOCMA is launching its own program, called ChemStewards, that will begin in January. “ChemStewards is a program that was developed after carefully listening to and assessing the needs of our members,” says Acker. “We believe this program strikes the right balance between the desire for continuous improvement in environmental, health, safety and security performance, and the realities of competing and winning in the global economy.”

The reason for the move wasn’t financial, at least from SOCMA’s own standpoint, because it doesn’t pay any fees to ACC for Responsible Care. Instead, notes Acker, SOCMA is responding to its member’ desires for more flexibility.

“ChemStewards recognizes that different companies have different resources. It gives companies flexibility in where to start,” he says.

The program consists of three tiers. Tier 1 focuses on fundamentals <em dash>— making sure that companies have adequate management systems and metrics in place while Tier 2 targets “enhanced performance” and Tier 3 “excellence.”

Every SOCMA member must participate, but each can choose a tier that it considers most appropriate. About half of the group’s members are smaller firms, with sales of less than $25 million and under 100 employees. About 40% of these companies don’t have any formal EHS&S manager, notes Ackers.

 “Forty to 50 companies probably will be in Tier 1 initially, with most of the rest in Tier 2 and only a few in Tier 3,” reckons Ackers.

Each level includes a set of core principles, coupled with metrics and third-party verification. The metrics for Tier 1 consist of Toxic Release Inventory emission levels, OSHA-recordable employee incidence rate and the number of process safety incidents. Companies in higher tiers must measure themselves against those metrics as well as three or four additional ones. The extra metrics should be set by the end of the year, says Ackers, as should the mechanism for third-party verification.

Companies in Tier 1 and Tier 2 must complete a self-verification of program elements by the end of  2006, undergo a third-party review of the management system by the end of 2007 and a third-party on-site verification by the end of 2008. This three-year cycle will begin again in January 2009. Companies in Tier 3 must already have a third-party-verified management system in place and document this each year.

Joint members of ACC and SOCMA (about two dozen in all, says Ackers) will not be required to implement both ChemStewards and Responsible Care.

Having a number of chemical trade groups behind a single program like Responsible Care has brought coherence and efficiency, but unfortunately has not led to broad-based acceptance by industry. We need to get more companies actually and actively involved in improving EHS&S. SOCMA is making a move in the right direction. 

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