Home> News

Chemical plants' safety a work in progress

By Du Juan in Qingdao, Shandong province ( China Daily )

Updated: 2013-09-05

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 0

The nation's chemical industry still faces challenges involving work safety after more than 20 years of development, but the government will continue to make great efforts to improve the situation, said a senior official on Wednesday.

In recent years, the industry has become safer, with fewer accidents and workplace deaths, even as the sector has grown 15 percent annually, said Sun Huashan, vice-minister of the State Administration of Work Safety.

Sun was speaking during the first China International Chemical Process Safety Symposium, which was held in Qingdao, Shandong province.

He said that China has established a complete work safety system in the chemical industry, which has reduced accidents and deaths. Last year, the number killed in the industry fell below 100 for the first time, a decline of 22 percent year-on-year. The number of production accidents declined 33 percent.

During the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), the number of accidents was reduced 62 percent and deaths fell 51 percent.

However, Sun said safety in the sector still falls short of international levels, and the industry's rapid growth has created increasing challenges for producers.

China's urbanization has been part of that challenge, said Wang Haijun, deputy director of the No 3 Department (Hazardous chemicals) of Work Safety Supervision within SAWS.

Some chemical factories that are located in what were once suburban or rural areas have found themselves within the boundaries of expanding cities, raising the issue of how they can "harmoniously co-exist with the urban public system", he said.

"As the economy grows, the public's tolerance is falling concerning chemical production accidents," he added.

Wang noted other issues. Most domestic chemical companies are small or mid-sized producers that use obsolete technology and equipment, making it difficult to improve the safety of their operations.

Meanwhile, newer projects tend to have huge, expensive factories with vast amounts of machinery. These facilities pose a different kind of risk.

"If accidents happen at such big projects, the effect will be terrible and the impact huge," he said.

Given these conditions, industry insiders said communication between Chinese companies and their foreign counterparts is significant, because all the major international chemical companies operate in China.

"We promote our members' best practices in China", said Jeremy Burks, chairman of the Association of International Chemical Manufacturers and president of Dow Corning Greater China. "Much chemical expertise and the experience of foreign companies can be applied in China," he said.

Founded in 1988, the association represents more than 50 international chemical enterprises that have major investments in China.

"China's chemical companies are changing their attitudes toward work safety, and they are willing to invest more time and money in it, which is very encouraging," said Burks.

He said the biggest challenge for China's chemical industry safety at present is to build up knowledge and expertise.

"Maybe it's not fashionable to choose the work safety sector in the chemical industry in China, but it is really crucial for the companies," he said.

"Good safety leads to higher reliability and quality, which helps companies achieve cost- effectiveness. Investments in safety will yield a higher return than they realize," he said.


(China Daily 09/05/2013 page14)