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Published in partnership with Enablon for Enablon Insights, the online community dedicated to EHS, Sustainability and Risk professionals
Companies are exposed to operational risks every day. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as the Bhopal and Seveso disasters show that adverse events can result in catastrophic consequences. Unmitigated exposure to risks can lead to workplace injuries, loss of business, damage to corporate image, lawsuits, claims and other outcomes.
Incidents can occur in different contexts and range in severity. Global organizations with complex operations must address large numbers of incidents in an efficient way, and proactively manage risks. To meet this challenge, companies need accurate real-time data at their fingertips. Interactive, mobile-ready and collaborative solutions to capture, track, investigate, report and analyze incidents and accidents, control risks and improve EHS performance are essential.
What is just as important is making sure one has all the correct hazard, exposure, and safety data for logging incidents, accidents, near-misses, etc. Even at the time of this article being written a simple Google search would find numerous news examples of ‘chemical accidents’ happening all over the world where the critical data needed to preempt an incident or understand it better was missing.
The Dangers from Chemical Releases
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) webpage, chemical releases arising from technological incidents, natural disasters, conflicts and terrorism are common. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has estimated that between 2000 and 2009, there were nearly 3,200 technological disasters alone resulting in approximately 100,000 people killed, and more than 1.5 million people affected.
As a result, incident tracking is important for many reasons including awareness of threats. In fact, reporting incidents is essential since it raises the organization’s awareness about the things that can go wrong so that corrective and preventative actions can be taken promptly. This applies to industries involving manual labor, manufacturing with hazardous chemicals, or handling or storing toxic substances. Without the communication channel provided by incident reporting protocols, a variety of threats to safety could go unnoticed and unresolved. Having key chemical data in this context allows for companies to take the engineering, health, & safety precautions needed to ensure environmental & workplace safety.
What is interesting is that people and organizations tend to understand the risks but traditionally haven’t done much about preventing them. According to the Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) program that researched the incidents involving the 84,000 chemicals present under the Toxic Substances Control Act Chemical Substance inventory during the period of 1999-2008, 5 chemicals were the cause of the majority of exposure incidents. In fact, HSEES concluded that:
“Of the 57,975 incidents that were reported, 54,989 (95%) involved the release of only one chemical. The top five chemicals associated with injury were carbon monoxide (2,364), ammonia (1,153), chlorine (763), hydrochloric acid (326), and sulfuric acid (318). Carbon monoxide and ammonia by far caused the most injuries, deaths, and evacuations. Chlorine, while not in the top 10 chemicals released, was in the top five chemicals associated with injury because of its hazardous properties.”
Generating Insights from Incident Reports
Thank goodness companies are becoming more empowered to report incidents and identify safety risks to employees across the value-chain. We know that incident reports are generally amazing lagging indicators reflecting on what the workplace and safety culture are lacking. There are many documented cases where minor incidents were symptoms of much bigger problems. Reports providing valuable, real-life chemical data to management who can use it to assess whether additional training, better equipment, and/or new strategies are needed for the organization is key to avoid chemical exposures or incidents.
Generally, just mentioning that something happened and vowing to try to avoid it next time doesn’t garner the sense of urgency normally warranted. Incident reports are legal documents that prompt organizations to take immediate action for resolution. It is crucial that chemical-related incidents are reported immediately to corporate environmental, health, and safety teams, as well as authorities and emergency response if workers are exposed. An incident report form is used to gather the details of an incident for formal documentation and investigation, and should capture the chemicals involved in the incident and the exposure type if possible. Not having the correct data easily available to add to an incident record can easily elongate the reporting cycle costing companies time and potentially allowing another incident to yet occur.
Enablon’s Incident Management software application covers the entire incident management lifecycle. It allows all events to be reported and analyzed, and investigations managed. The solution offers comprehensive web and mobile data collection features, root cause analysis, and advanced reporting capabilities. In addition, built-in best practices can be used to turn incident report data into preventive action plans. Integrating Verisk 3E™’s chemical property, regulatory, and safety data into the Enablon platform gives organizations the peace of mind that when an incident occurs accurate, timely data is available on-demand to support incident investigation and logging.