The safety of our plants and processes is a key element of our environmental sustainability efforts. This approach allows us to ensure the safety of our workforce as well as the people in the vicinity of our sites. Functional safety systems also help minimize production errors, which in turn reduces the risk of economic losses.
We seek to eliminate as many manufacturing hazards as possible to prevent workplace accidents, production outages, and chemical leaks. We attempt to detect technical defects before they have a chance to cause damage. By providing training for our employees, we prevent human errors as much as possible.
Our Group function Environment, Health, Safety, Security, Quality (EQ) is in charge of environmental stewardship and safety worldwide, and oversees plant and process safety at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. At the operational level, responsibility for plant and process safety falls to our individual sites and their EHS managers. Our local EHS organizations report to and work hand in hand with EQ.
All sites are subject to the same requirements for plant and process safety set out by our Group-wide EHS Plant and Process Safety standard, which describes the safety rules for all production plants and warehouses. These requirements encompass the entire life cycle of a plant, from cradle to grave. Before we commission a plant, we draft a safety concept that is continuously updated until the facility is decommissioned. This concept contains an overview of potential risks and the corresponding protective measures. In the 2015-2016 period, we started implementing our Plant and Process Safety standard for Sigma-Aldrich sites as well, with completion expected in the course of 2017.
Our Group-wide EHS Spillage Control standard governs the handling of hazardous materials and stipulates organizational measures to prevent toxic substances from spilling or leaking during storage and transport. In addition to this standard, our Risk Management Process guides all our sites in identifying and assessing risks. As needed, this process can be used to develop and implement measures to minimize such risks. In 2016, we conducted our Group Procedure Hazard and Operability Study, which clearly defined the individual responsible for identifying potential hazards during a project as well as the manner in which risks should be identified and documented.
The safety of our plants and processes is predicated on the successful interaction between man and machine, which is why it's crucial for us to educate our employees and provide them with regular training. Our internal continuing education programs for site, production, engineering, and EHS officers also cover plant and process safety. Likewise, newly hired EHS managers are trained in plant and process safety during their onboarding.
The EU Directive adopted in 2012 on the control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances (aka Seveso III) was transposed into German law at the end of 2016. In 2017, we will therefore be updating existing processes and documents on the assessment and communication of potential hazards in production plants and warehouses.
Making safety measurable
Through our EHS performance indicators, we make it possible to measure safety and thus identify opportunities for improvement. We track EHS performance indicators at all production and warehouse facilities, as well as at major research sites such as Chilworth (UK) and Billerica, MA (USA). In doing so, we record both accidents and near-accidents. We investigate each individual incident before devising appropriate countermeasures in an effort to prevent such accidents in the future.
For instance, since 2013 we have been tracking the EHS Incident Rate, an indicator that synthesizes the following four categories of data:
- the number of workplace accidents involving Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany employees and contractors who work at our sites
- environmentally relevant incidents as defined by the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) and the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI), for instance product spills
- the activation of operational safety precautions that do not have an adverse impact on people and the environment, such as a preemptive systems shutdown
- deviations identified during external reviews and audits
The calculation of the EHS Incident Rate includes the number of incidents and the severity of the accident relative to the number of man-hours worked. The lower the EHS Incident Rate, the safer the site is.
Learning from incidents across all sites
It is important to share best practices and lessons learned, an approach that enables all our production sites to learn from the incidents at other facilities and thereby implement preventive measures. For instance, once a month, site directors and EHS managers participate in safety leadership calls to share new lessons learned.
Steady decline in accident rate
Our EHS Incident Rate (EHS IR) indicates that the number of accidents within our company is steadily sinking. In 2015, our EHS IR was 4.3, with 3.4 in 2016.
Spills without significant adverse effects
Across all production, research and storage sites, we recorded a total of 32 incident-related spills in 2015 and 41 incident-related spills in 2016, none of which led to significant environmental pollution.
Taking countermeasures after a fire
In February 2015, a filter fire in a pigment production facility in Gernsheim led to damage costing millions of euros. We investigated the incident and, as a preventive measure, installed a temperature monitoring system for the filter inner area of all pigment production lines at the site. We are now better equipped to promptly detect when the production lines grow unusually hot.
Training new personnel
In 2016, 25 new employees, primarily from Sigma-Aldrich, took part in our onboarding process, where they received training on many topics, including plant and process safety. The U.S.-based EHS managers from Sigma-Aldrich participated in a separate onboarding process in the United States.