The safest systems are those that eliminate hazards, of course, but in the process industries, heat and pressure are often a part of the manufacturing equation. To maximize plant safety, it is important to regularly evaluate processes and products to see whether another product, method or even temperature can deliver effective results more safety. An online video that explains some real-life chemical processing accidents and how applying the principles of inherent safety could have prevented them is a great place to start reviewing your own process.

The video, produced by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, highlights the four main components of inherently safer design, first identified by the National Academy of Sciences. Deceptively simple, the four principal steps - substitute, minimize, moderate and simplify - define criteria by which any processing facility can evaluate potential hazards and incorporate inherently safer manufacturing practices. The CSB video describes the concepts:
  • Substitute: replacing one material with another that is less hazardous.

  • Minimize: reducing the amount of hazardous material in the process.

  • Moderate: using less hazardous process conditions such as lower pressures or temperatures.

  • Simplify: designing processes to be less complicated, and therefore less prone to failure.
“Inherently Safer: The Future of Risk Reduction” uses recent chemical industry incidents to illustrate how applying inherent safety principles increase safety. One example cited is the Kleen Energy explosion which occurred in February 2010. Following the event, CSB learned that the cause of the accident - purging piping with natural gas to clear it of debris that could damage the turbines - was a common practice in the power industry. Yet inherently safety gases, including compressed air, are just as effective for purging the piping. In this case, change came quickly and with little resistance from industry to adopting a safer practice.

Take a look around your facility. Are there hazards that the principles of inherent safety could help you mitigate? It needn’t take an accident to adopt safer practices.

Linda Becker
Associate Publisher and Editor