Does anyone still remember Bhopal, India? If you don’t, that’s too bad, because we recently marked the 30th anniversary of this disastrous Union Carbide chemical/gas leak that exposed more than 500,000 people and caused more than 3000 deaths and there are plenty of lessons which we can learn from this horrible tragedy.
In the aftermath of this cataclysmic event, there was a lot of finger pointing, hospitalizations, injuries, fear, uncertainty and doubt. But some good came out of it: the establishment of the American Chemical Council (ACC) Responsible Care initiative -- a global EHS performance improvement initiative. In the U.S., the ACC made Responsible Care an obligation for its 160 companies which include giants such as BASF, Dow and 3M.
The goal is to improve the industry’s environmental, health and safety and security performance, and respond to public concerns about operations and products through mandatory third-party audits.
How is safety impacted during a responsible care audit?
Auditors make sure management systems achieve the expectations established by the organization. If deficiencies or non-conformances are identified, the company must take corrective action before it can be certified. The process is one of several “pillars” that make up the initiative. Others include mandatory metrics reporting and implementation of codes intended to drive continual improvement.
Audits are conducted by firms which are accredited by an independent national accreditation board. Auditors are required to pass a training course, have previous auditing experience and meet continuing education requirements. The member companies have to pay for audits -- similar to an ISO audit. Auditors follow a technical specification created by ACC as their audit protocol and determine whether the organization conforms to the requirements found in the system.
How long does it take to conduct these audits?
Depending on the facility’s size, number of employees and other factors, the process lasts about one to three days and involves two or more auditors. Audits always include interviews with people in the field and senior staff, document reviews, and management system checks.
How are signs and labels used during an audit?
To build awareness of the audit with its personnel, companies display posters, charts and graphs in break rooms, offices, warehouses, and distribution centers. ACC also markets a flag which companies fly at facilities after they are certified.
With the introduction of a new Product Safety Code in 2013, the chemical industry is enhancing its efforts to respond to public concerns about the safety of chemical products in everyday use. Responsible Care will continue to play an expanded role in industry EHS activities as the chemical sector experiences growth spurred on by the nation’s natural gas and oil boom.
The initiative has been implemented in more than 60 countries. Since 2003, more than 1000 Responsible Care audits have been conducted in the U.S. Overseas, another 200+ audits have occurred.