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Towards reducing major industrial accidents.

The Major Industrial Accidents Council of Canada's role is to reduce the frequency of accidents involving hazardous substances

Like people in other industrialized countries, Canadians enjoy a lifestyle which is significantly dependent on potentially dangerous chemicals.

The term "chemicals" encompasses a myriad of raw materials, processed and manufactured substances and products which constitute an important sector of the Canadian economy. In 1991 alone, the vales of exports of chemicals, plastics and fertilizers amounted to $7.17 billion. Crude oil and natural gas added another $8.99 billion. Imports of chemicals and plastics totalled $8.60 billion and crude petroleum $4.20 billion. Moving by pipeline, railway and tanker truck, much of this material passes unobtrusively through or near metropolitan areas.

Fortunately, accidents of major magnitude have been rare in Canada. However, the annual average of reported accidents involving hazardous substances over the five-year period ending in 1992 was 1,132 -- three per day. It is true that most of these were minor and, of the more than 20,000 chemicals used in significant quantities in this country, many are benign. Under adverse circumstance, however, others, by themselves or in combination, can pose a severe threat to workers, the public and the environment.

No lives were lost in the recent Oakville, MB, accident, but the disruption to everyday life was harsh: 400 area residents were evacuated for a period of 24 days. The train derailment had involved tank cars carrying sulphuric acid, sodium hydroxide, ethylene oxide, vinyl chloride, acetic anhydride methyl alcohol, vinyl acetate and propane.

In 1988, more than 5,200 people had to be evacuated from their homes when a warehouse fire at St. Basile-le-Grand, QC, involved 117,000 litres of illegally stored PCBs. Clean-up costs soared to more than $30 million.

Among the five groups of entities affected by hazardous substances accidents, it is industry which suffers the greatest amount of direct loss. Responding to the threat of accidents involving hazardous substances is a challenge most industries prepare for. However, the growing expectations placed on chemical manufacturers, transporters and responders make matters increasingly complex.

To the spectre of legal liability, one can add escalating workers' compensation, costs of business restoration and pollution clean-up.

"Industry works hard at maintaining high levels of safety," noted the executive director of the Major Industrial Accidents Council of Canada (MIACC), Michael Salib. "But no one organization can develop all the tools it needs to manage the risk of a major industrial accident involving hazardous substances. There has been no single agency which has been able to bring together all the organizations involved, and help to cut across all the jurisdictional lines of responsibility and avoid some of the resulting duplication and overlap." Until recently that is. Help is at hand.

MIACC's mission is to reduce the frequency and severity of major industrial accidents involving hazardous substances. Tackling this goal by developing emergency prevention, preparedness and response programs on several technology fronts, MIACC is also intent on achieving uniformity of their implementation across Canada. But what is MIACC and how does it operate?

Industry/government co-operation

In 1986, after Bhophal, a special Canadian government and industry task force determined that Canada was vulnerable to an industrial accident of that order. Defining a major industrial accident as one that had the potential to cause death or adverse health effects in a community, the task force concluded that with improvements in certain areas, the probability and effect of such an event could be greatly reduced. The co-operative thinking yielded 21 recommendations that gave rise to MIACC, and became the focus of its work.

Initially, MIACC was supported solely by the federal government. However, to reach the standing of a neutral forum, one in which all interested parties participate in partnership, MIACC set course as an independent, non-profit, neutral organization, supported by all stakeholders equally.

Stakeholders are defined as all those with a vested interest in preventing or mitigating the effects of industrial accidents. By working together in a co-operative, consensus process, the solutions they develop are then more readily accepted than if they had been developed by any single organization.

Generally, these solutions or tools take the form of standards and guidelines that will assist stakeholders in preventing industrial accidents, improving their state of preparedness or enhancing their response capability to hazardous substances accidents.

When the standards are referenced in legislation, there is uniform implementation and application of safety measures in Canada. Confusion, overlap and duplication are minimized.

The issues that are studied by the MIACC working groups -- and these groups are made up of specialists from stakeholder organizations -- can be very complex.

Hazardous chemicals management

MIACC is developing a set of recommended safety practices for the full life-cycle of hazardous chemicals -- their manufacture, handling, warehousing, use, distribution, transport and disposal. This generic framework will assist all those who deal with hazardous chemicals in carrying out their activities in a manner that minimizes risk to human health and the environment, while supporting industrial productivity and encouraging competitiveness consistent with the concept of sustainable development.

Workshop studies of two chemicals, hydrofluoric acid and chlorine, have helped to formulate the generic framework.

Commenting on the recently held chlorine life-cycle accident prevention workshop, the chairman of the specialist group working in this area, John Schrives, Environment Canada, said, "The use of accident case histories illuminated a number of recurring themes."

These were that:

* human error, through complacency or fatigue, is the single greatest contributor to accidents;

* equipment failure due to design problems, infrequent testing and inspection of materials of construction is also a major cause;

* procedural inadequacies, even during routine maintenance, can create problems; and

* chemical life-cycle management is a shared responsibility which crosses all phases of the life-cycle.

"Our conclusions to date," said Shrives, "have been that hazardous chemicals management in general should focus on prevention and preventive maintenance activities due to their proven cost-effectiveness."

Chemical process safety

Even with excellent safety initiatives such as the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association's Responsible Care program and others from the Industrial Accident Prevention Association, there is always room for continuing improvement when manufacturing or handling chemicals.

"The processing, handling, use and storage of materials with inherent hazardous properties can never be done in the total absence of risk," explained CCPA's Graham Creedy. "But if we apply process safety management systems we can perhaps operate facilities in a manner free from episodic or catastrophic accidents."

Heading up the MIACC working group studying this area, he said that the work is proceeding as a pilot project with higher hazard potential sites operated by CCPA members before being extended to sites operated by other MIACC stakeholder organizations. Creedy added that the project emphasizes a specific, targeted approach.

"First, we are identifying all facilities with significant potential for hazardous materials accidents and obtaining a contact person in each. Through a survey we are assessing the current awareness and use of process safety management techniques, after which we can work towards filling the knowledge gaps identified, and promoting the use of management systems for major hazard control."

Emergency planning for industry

For industry, being well prepared can mean the difference between life and death, and thousands or even millions of dollars in damage, or ... minimal effect. Quick, effective action minimizes the time it takes to gain control of a situation and stems the potential for the effects to spread and escalate. This requires thorough planning and a detailed program of action.

MIACC's work in Emergency Planning for Industry was developed into a national standard with the Canadian Standards Association. Setting out all the elements required in full emergency planning, it includes guidelines to assess and respond to situations, and emphasizes training, exercises and auditing. Computerized generation of plans and quick updating is made possible with a software package that is available.

The standard has sold well in Canada and overseas. Most importantly, it is being referenced by several provinces in their official processes.

What's next?

Salib noted that there are a number of other important areas with which MIACC is dealing. Coming down the pipeline, he sees:

* a risk assessment model in the form of a national standard for municipalities and industry;

* a software program that identifies and prioritizes risks and performs the calculations for the risk assessment model based on five priority lists of hazardous substances;

* qualifications and training standards for emergency responders;

* review criteria for evaluating training programs (an inventory of training courses, facilities, printed and audio-visual materials and software has already been published);

* an accreditation and certification model for training facilities, programs and personnel;

* guiding principles for joint municipal and industry emergency preparedness;

* national guidelines for land use planning and control around new and existing facilities handling hazardous substances, including pipelines transporting hazardous substances, and one for dangerous goods transportation corridors;

* a CD-ROM housing chemical databases and other prevention, preparedness and response information;

* a set of comprehensive criteria for environmental, health and safety audits;

* an annotated bibliography on literature on the social and psychological effects of major industrial accidents;

* a glossary of terms and definitions used by professionals in prevention, preparedness and response fields.

Technology transfer

MIACC is very active in promoting technology transfer. Much of it is through organizing workshops and conferences and offering publications, both MIACC's own and as agent for the Center for Chemical Process Safety in the U.S.

A current workshop is to review the lessons learned from a recent major transportation accident in which hazardous substances were involved. Some workshops are held to gather input for the products MIACC is developing. Some are for exchanging information. But either way, the stakeholders benefit -- as does the general public.

MIACC's Big Show Is in St. John, NB

In 1993, MIACC's biennial conference, technical exhibition and trade show focuses on The Practical Approach to Hazardous Substances Accidents. Co-presented by MIACC, Environment Canada, and the Air & Waste Management Association, concurrent sessions include: Prevention, Preparedness and Response; Technical Seminar on Chemical Spills; Accidental Releases of Air Toxics - Emergency Response Planning; and Hazardous Material Management - Its Proper Handling. The conference will be held in Saint John, NB, from September 7-10. More information can be obtained from MIACC -- Tel: 613-232-4435; Fax: 613-232-4915.

Bette Bowyer is director, communications, Major Industrial Accidents Council of Canada, Ottawa, ON.
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Title Annotation:Major Industrial Accidents Council of Canada
Author:Bowyer, Bette
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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