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Safety is an international issue

Posted 05/01/2011 by KatieJ

Despite the obvious dangers of handling hazardous materials, the chemical industry in the developed world is one of the safest manufacturing sectors. Indeed, in Finland, for example, it is the number one when it comes to occupational safety. As Aimo Kastinen from the Chemical Industry Federation of Finland points out, an increasing number of companies can report a zero result when calculating the number of accidents each year, although the average result is still 10 accidents/million working hours in 2009, for example.

But even performance that matches this level is not reflected in other regions of the world, particularly amongst the developing nations. A report from China at the end of 2010, for example, recorded that at least five workers were killed and a further eight injured in an explosion at a pharmaceutical plant in Yunnan province. This followed five deaths at a Chinese chemical plant in September 2010 and numerous other incidents during the year.

But despite this less than satisfactory situation within the global chemical industry, other industry sectors have a much worse safety record. According to the International Labour Organisation, as many people are killed on construction sites across the world as die as a result of armed conflict. In real terms, this means that at least 60,000 people/year are killed on construction sites around the globe – around one death every 10 minutes - a staggering figure that equates to almost one in five of all fatal workplace accidents. And this does not include those who are injured or those that are exposed to hazardous substances in the course of their work.

The international chemical industry sees construction as one of its major markets and as such it should and does take great care that the products it supplies are safe to use in the indicated manner. Unfortunately it cannot police the use of its products, especially when shortcuts are taken with regard to safe usage, whether deliberate or accidental.

Safety is one of the most important aspects of the chemical industry’s Responsible Care programme and the industry is justifiably proud of its reputation. But this success in the developed world needs to be replicated around the world and what better time than in this International Year of Chemistry.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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