September 5, 2019

CSB: Worker Participation Can Help Prevent Chemical Incidents

Worker participation is “essential” to improve process safety and prevent chemical incidents, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has found. A new document published by CSB identifies four agency investigations in which ineffective worker participation contributed to a major chemical incident. CSB states that a lack of effective worker participation can both increase the risk of injury to employees and adversely affect members of the public who live near industrial facilities where serious safety incidents occur.

The document summarizes key findings from the 1998 Sierra Chemical Company explosives accident, which killed four workers and injured six; the explosion and fire that killed seven employees at the Tesoro Anacortes Refinery in 2010; the 2012 Chevron Richmond Refinery fire that caused 15,000 members of the public to seek medical attention; and the explosion and fire at the Williams Olefins plant in 2013 that killed two workers and injured more than 150 others.

CSB urges employers and others to create and improve opportunities for workers to participate directly in matters involving process safety management and incident prevention. According to the agency, workers should be able to bring safety issues to the attention of management without fear of retaliation. CSB also stresses the importance of empowering workers to provide input on how work is performed. This can be accomplished through worker participation in safety-related committees, inspections and audits, and hazard analyses. CSB also recommends strengthening worker participation requirements in industry standards and state and federal regulations.

“Worker engagement is key to an effective process safety program,” said CSB Board Member Rick Engler. “After all, it’s employees who are so often in direct contact with the hazards—and have the experience and knowledge to help prevent them.”

The new document is available as a PDF from CSB’s website.