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Hazardex June: Editor's comment

17 June 2020

When countries first began announcing lockdowns in response to the coronavirus pandemic, there was a concern for many in the industry about how to keep operations running smoothly, efficiently, and safely.

(Click here to view article in digital edition)
Adhering to social distancing measures and implementing a skeleton crew was one way in which companies were able to continue operations in some capacity. However, this situation created its own issues. With many operations slowed down or stopped completely, some thought the number of process safety incidents may drop, but that hasn’t been the case. With more responsibility falling on fewer people, safety is as important as ever.
Digitalisation has helped to some degree and proven its worth since the pandemic began. Operations can be monitored and assessed remotely, and workers can communicate effectively and efficiently wherever they are. Recent weeks have shown the true value of digitalisation and Industry 4.0 and how necessary they will continue to be in the future. 
However, digitalisation can’t solve everything. The lockdown has opened new avenues for incidents to occur. With many operations minimised or halted and countries now beginning to ease restrictions, it is a crucial time for many industries. As was covered in Hazardex February (pg.36), start-up operations are non-routine tasks that require careful attention from operators. Poorly performed start-up operations can lead to fatal incidents and so close attention must be paid in the coming weeks as operations begin to resume. After an extended period of non-routine activity, safety must be at the centre of any start-up operations.
On page 4 of this issue, there are two stories highlighting the risks involved in post-pandemic start-up operations. A gas leak at an LG Chem plant in India killed 12 people on May 7 as hundreds of people fell ill with burning eyes and breathing difficulties. Reports suggest that the incident occurred when the plant was preparing to restart operations having been closed since March 24. It is thought that a gas left in a tank during the lockdown meant a heat-producing chemical reaction occurred, resulting in the leak.
Elsewhere, in Italy, an explosion at the Adler Plastic works near Naples, Italy killed one person and injured two others on May 5. The factory had only reopened on May 4 after the Italian government eased the lockdown in the country. The Adler Plastic works had been operating with reduced staff working in shifts so that employees could work safely apart.
Both incidents highlight the importance of keeping safety at the centre of any decision to restart or ramp-up operations following lockdown and to not rush back into normal operations without the proper due diligence.
…Alistair Hookway, Editor, Hazardex

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