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How can ISO 45001 help chemical manufacturers

Working in the chemical industry exposes employees to a vast number of occupational health and safety hazards on a daily basis, and with irreversible consequences. Considering the hazards and extensive legislation regarding the chemical industry, creating an effective Occupational Health and Safety Management System according to ISO 45001:2018 is one of the key elements in ensuring health and safety within the workplace in the modern day.

Implementing ISO 45001 in the chemical industry: How and why?

Implementing ISO 45001 is the same for any industry in terms of what steps should be taken (for more information, see: 12 Steps for implementation and certification against ISO 45001). A Health and Safety Policy will need to be written, and an OHSMS (Occupational Health and Safety Management System) established. Similarly, the clauses of ISO 45001 need to be understood, executed, and followed, but it was found that particular elements of the clause itself proved especially critical. Let’s examine these:

  • Legislation compliance: Handling hazardous substances is highly regulated in every country. Legislation on personal safety, safety work wear, personal protective equipment, and site management must be analyzed, logged, communicated, and adhered to. With employee safety depending heavily on the correct operation of such pieces of legislation, it is vital that this information is gathered accurately and distributed to employees clearly.
  • Participation and consultation: Like any other industry, the chemical industry has its own special set of hazards (which we shall touch on later) and central to identification and mitigation of these is consultation and participation of the employees. Employees with rich experience in any work position will bring a wealth of information to their position, and will be well aware of many hazards and dangers that lie in the workplace. Involvement and consultation will help you identify these hazards and risks more efficiently. The article How to meet participation and consultation requirements in ISO 45001 can help you with this element.
  • Competence and awareness: Employees in chemical processing companies have different levels of education and usually, the severity of occupational health and safety risks are inversely reciprocal to their education. Also, the less-educated employees find it more difficult to obey rules regarding protective equipment, heavy lifting, or working on heights. Making them aware of the hazards and training them to use the personal protective equipment properly is a big part of having an accident-free workplace. Every employee must know exactly what their role is within the OHSMS. Also, a list of emergency contact numbers must be available in the places where such list can be needed. Who ensures that the first aid kits are up to date? Does an accident book exist? These are just some of the questions that illustrate how important this element is to OH&S performance. “The importance of awareness training in ISO 45001” can provide you with extra detail on this element.

Hazards specific to the chemical industry

Although the fundamentals of ISO 45001 are similar to implementing in many other sectors, emphasis on these elements certainly helped ensure that ISO 45001 was more effective in this particular sector. But, critically, the main difference was identifying hazards and risks within this sector – as they were markedly different from other implementations in different sectors. So, what was found in terms of hazards, and how were they dealt with? Let’s examine this:

  • Equipment-based hazards: As mentioned above, most chemical processing companies have lots of equipment – hydraulic, electrical, and pneumatic or a combination of all elements. Proper and timely service along with proper training that will ensure that everyone knows how to use them correctly, and any controls that should be in place exist will in some cases mean the difference between an injury and a normal working day. A training matrix can help you achieve operational excellence, and a preventive maintenance program and log can help ensure that machinery is maintained correctly.
  • Fumes, liquids, and related hazards: Chemical processing companies are working with various potentially hazardous agents and potentially poisonous fumes. It is critical to ensure that the correct ventilation and extraction exist, and knowledge is available on how to handle various oils, acids, gases, and other harmful substances, including what skin and eye protection you need to wear, and including datasheets and processes for dealing with any incidents or accidents that may occur within the center.
  • Hazardous equipment: A usual day in the chemical processing industry includes operations regarding fluids transportation, filtration, and solids fluidization, evaporation, heat exchange, distillation, gas liquefaction and many other potentially hazardous operations that include using a variety of equipment. It is vital that employees are trained, the equipment is in good working order, and that all mitigation of risk is considered before operation.
  • Facility layout: Many companies in the chemical industry work for a very long time, and even when the company keeps track in terms of technology, very often the company uses the same buildings for its operation for decades. Compliance with regulations in this regard is sometimes neglected simply because changes in the buildings are costly. Also, introduction of new technologies may require changes in existing facilities in terms of ventilation, lighting, etc. One of the sources of hazards also lies in the storing process. The company must ensure the selection of suitable technical solutions, process equipment, and technical protective measures that avoid or reduce to a minimum the release of harmful chemical substances.

Closing out the process

Many challenges are found in the chemical industry, and as ever, the identification of hazards specific to this sector and this particular workplace were central to the performance of the OHSMS. Using employee feedback, consultation, and driving appropriate programs to ensure those risks were mitigated became easier in light of that, but having procedures to deal with accidents is also critical given the nature of the chemical processing company. Concentrate on the fundamentals of the ISO 45001 standard, fulfill them, and take all employee feedback and advice on board, ensuring you close the discussion and education loop and have an OHSMS that belongs to the employees and not one person who administrates it and writes the policies. The results of your system will be reflected in how well you perform the above elements.

Use our free  Gap Analysis Tool to measure your OHSMS against the ISO 45001 standard.

Advisera Strahinja Stojanovic
Strahinja Stojanovic

Strahinja Stojanovic is certified as a lead auditor for the ISO 13485, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards by RABQSA. He participated in the implementation of these standards in more than 100 SMEs, through the creation of documentation and performing in-house training for maintaining management systems, internal audits, and management reviews.