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Hazardex September: Editor’s comment

02 September 2020

The devastating explosion on August 4 in Beirut pushed process safety to the forefront of public consciousness as footage and images of the blast were shared across the world.

(Click here to view the September issue of Hazardex)

The incident will likely have many long-lasting repercussions – not just for Lebanon, but for process safety and chemical storage globally. This was initially highlighted in the aftermath of the explosion as articles appeared in mainstream media discussing ammonium nitrate (the chemical involved in Beirut’s explosion) and the dangers involved with chemical storage.

Followed by this were further articles which highlighted facilities where ammonium nitrate was being stored and questioned whether a similar incident to Beirut could occur in these locations. This included locations in the UK, US, Australia, India, and South Africa to name just a few. In response, businesses and safety regulators issued statements with reassurances that chemicals at those sites were being stored safely and in line with regulations. For example, a statement from the UK HSE said, “The storage of Ammonium Nitrate in Great Britain is subject to a robust regulatory framework, which considers the hazards posed by storage, product safety and measures to deal with emergencies.”

As with any process safety-related accident, it is vital that lessons can be learnt so that industry practices can improve, and a repeat of incidents can be avoided. Hopefully chemical storage facilities worldwide would have seen the devastation in Beirut and used it as an opportunity to re-assess their own practices and ensure they are operating in line with regulations.
One lesson that can be learnt from Beirut is the necessity for a robust safety culture. The blast is thought to have been caused by welding work. Welding next to highly explosive chemicals shows an obvious lack of safety knowledge, however there was also no safety manager present and the work had been ordered by senior port officials who had known the warehouse was storing chemicals. The incident shows how a disregard for safety can exist from the lowest to the highest levels of an organisation and what can happen when a safety culture is not present.

Hopefully the continuing investigations into the Beirut explosion will find those responsible and hold them to account, but just as importantly, hopefully high hazard industries around the globe can use the incident as an opportunity to learn, re-assess, and ensure they adhere to safety regulations so that the devastation of Beirut is not seen again.

…Alistair Hookway, Editor, Hazardex

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