Deemed essential by government officials, many chemical plants operated during the peak of the pandemic, although often at decreased rates as demand from customers plunged. A recent CP online poll underscores that our industry largely kept running: nearly 90% of respondents said that they were working, almost half exclusively remotely. Less than 5% reported losing their jobs and under 3% noted being on interim layoff.
Stories abound about sites that switched production to hand sanitizers or their ingredients. In addition, chemical companies and vendors to our industry have offered valuable support against the pandemic in various ways. Check our COVID-19 page for continually updated details about the positive contributions that companies and groups are making.
As restrictions ease, plants increasingly will return to some semblance of their pre-pandemic operation. However, they certainly will not revert to “business as usual” anytime soon. Continuing to cope with COVID-19 will demand significant changes. Our latest “Process Safety with Trish & Traci” podcast, “Adjusting to the New Normal,” delves into some of the adjustments needed to ensure both personnel and plant safety.
Fortunately, professional groups focused on process safety have responded to the pandemic by recently issuing publications, available as free downloads, that look into issues posed by operating plants during the current crisis. The IChemE Safety Centre (ISC), Melbourne, Australia, in May released “Managing Process Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic." About the same time, AIChE’s Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS), New York City, published “Risk-Based Process Safety During Disruptive Times."
The ISC notes: “This paper outlines a collection of good practices and pitfalls to avoid... It is not extensive but provides some useful information across a range of aspects.”
The ISC document covers 15 aspects that come into play during the pandemic, spanning a variety of personal and operational issues.
On the personal level, these include effectively working at home when required, avoiding virtual-meeting fatigue, coping with distraction and stress, and commuting safely, among others.
Among the operational issues mentioned, risk assessment and assurance gets more space than any other. The document stresses that while some risk assessments can be postponed, others — often on adjustments prompted by the pandemic — demand careful management-of-change procedures. It lists 19 points covering options to consider as well as tips for effectively performing assessments.
Other operational issues touched upon include shift management and handover, and reliability and maintenance.
The 11-page document also cites several other resources worth checking.
The 19-page CCPS monograph, subtitled “Insights for Managing Process Safety During and Following the COVID-19 Pandemic and Similar Crises,” looks at issues in a slightly different and complementary way. It describes four pillars necessary for success: commit to process safety; understand hazards and risk; manage risk; and learn from experience. It also highlights 20 elements within the four categories required to provide a suitable foundation for these pillars. Specific pointers follow the description of each element.
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