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Make Your Vote Count

Sept. 22, 2020
Online polls can give you and us valuable insights

It’s that time of year; time to ignore the elephants and donkeys in the room and think about Chemical Processing’s polls instead.

Every month, we pose one multiple-choice question to gain insight on a topic pertinent to chemical engineers or the chemical industry. The results provide a quick, real-time view of readers’ opinions and help us better understand the challenges faced by engineers designing and operating plants in the chemical industry. We share these results every issue via an illustration that appears in the In Process section of the magazine (see p. 10). We also house all the results online (chemicalprocessing.com/poll-questions). These polls also serve as useful inputs in planning editorial content.

Over the last 12 months, we’ve asked everything from outreach efforts in the local community to interest in using renewable power. If you’re wondering, more than three-quarters (75.9%) of survey respondents consider outreach efforts to be “effective” or “very effective” and just over half (55.3%) note that their site’s interest in renewable power is “moderate” to “high.”

Every year, we also like to ask several safety-related questions. When we posed the question, “How effective do you consider your site's current communications with local first responders?,” we learned that only 38.8% consider communications “very” effective. Nearly a quarter of respondents (23.5%) stated that communications were only “somewhat” effective, 7.7% said “slightly” effective and 2.8% responded the communications were “not at all” effective.

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Poor communications with first responders can lead to fatalities, as we discussed in a recent Process Safety With Trish & Traci podcast (“What Have We Learned From Significant Safety Incidents?”). Trish Kerin, director of the IChemE Safety Centre, spoke about the lessons learned from the West Fertilizer Plant incident in April 2013 where an ammonium nitrate explosion killed 15 people — most of them first responders.

“Emergency responders need to know what they're dealing with so they can adequately respond to look after themselves and keep themselves safe,” says Kerin. “If they're hurt or injured, they can't respond on our behalf.”

In this incident, Kerin noted that first responders thought they were putting out a simple fire. They had no idea they were dealing with ammonium nitrate stored in huge volumes.

The main lessons learned, according to Kerin, were “understanding the hazards of ammonium nitrate, how it should be stored, what to do with contamination, and how it should be segregated into smaller quantities was really important. And then being able to communicate that information to the emergency responders.”

Another poll question probed a different communications issue: “How would you characterize your company's effectiveness in sharing safety learnings among its various sites?”

The news is better here. More than two-thirds (69.5%) of the poll respondents noted that safety learnings shared was either “good” or “excellent.” Only 2.7% stated “poor” and 18.6% noted their site had “adequate” safety-learning sharing.

In the same podcast about lessons learned, Kerin cautions: “It's easy to judge and we jump to judgment very, very quickly. But judgment of what happened doesn't necessarily help us. We need to really unpack why the decisions were made. Then we can try and do something different.

“We also often hear people say, ‘Well, that can't happen here.’ And to me, ‘That can't happen here,’ are the four most dangerous words we could ever put together in the English language when we're talking about process safety. The moment you say them, you're actually setting yourself up for it to happen because that's complacent. . . The better question to ask is, How can that happen here? And what controls do I have in place to prevent that? How can I manage that?”

Obviously, these poll questions help us understand you better. But they also allow you to voice your opinion on important issues and to benchmark your responses with those of your peers. So, when you see a new poll question, go ahead and participate. You might learn something.

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