Responsible Care at 25
Focus on product safety, process safety, and value chain outreach
10:53 AM MDT | July 1, 2013 | Robert Westervelt
ACC’s recently completed review of Responsible Care has resulted in the most significant changes to the program in at least 10 years, including the addition of product safety and process safety codes, as well as additional energy efficiency and performance measurements to encourage recycling, reuse, and waste minimization.
Responsible Care, launched in 1988, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. “Over the past three years, we have been undergoing a period of reflection, looking at what we’ve accomplished under Responsible Care,” says Sven Royall, chair of ACC’s Responsible Care board committee and v.p./global intermediates at Shell Chemicals. “We received input from outside stakeholders on what strategic changes to Responsible Care could deliver additional performance improvements, go further in meeting public expectations, and provide more value of our industry.”
The review has helped ACC identify areas in which Responsible Care and ACC “needed to raise [their] game,” Royall says. The review aligns with the program’s commitment to continuous improvement, he adds. “Responsible Care is not about set and forget,” Royall says. “We have to advance the program and get it deeper into the value chain.”
The most notable change is the addition of a product safety code. The commitment marks “industry’s pledge to deliver products that can be safely used, from inception to end of life,” ACC says. “The product safety code goes beyond regulatory requirements to give consumers confidence in the safety of the products that we make [and] that they use and rely on every day.”
Chemical makers will be required to conduct scientific analyses of their products, considering how the products are used by consumers, especially children. Companies must provide public access to product safety information and share that information across the supply chain. The code also requires members to evaluate any new information that may have product safety implications and take corrective measures if they discover the improper use of a product.
The code will be implemented over the next three years. Management practices around leadership, accountability, and prioritization are required to be in place by the end of 2014; practices around information and safety management must be in place by the end of 2015; and product design, performance, measurement, and communication practices must be implemented by the end of 2016. Full certification will start in 2017.
ACC and company officials say the change reflects the need to be more transparent and take a more active role in communicating health and safety data to downstream customers. Efforts by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to ban certain chemicals have moved into the private sector, including attempts to pressure large retailers such as Target and Walmart, and standards-setting bodies that can influence what materials are used in products such as building materials and medical devices.
“NGOs realize there may be softer targets and are increasingly moving their focus to the private sector and private standard-setting bodies,” says Cal Dooley, ACC president and CEO. “They fully understand that Walmart is not in the business of being convinced based on the available science. Walmart is in the business of meeting customer preferences.”
Dooley says NGOs are trying to capitalize on emotion to raise customer fears to advance a hazard-based approach instead of a risk-based assessments. “We are seeing an evolution of the challenges,” Dooley says. “We have to respond differently than perhaps we’d done in the past 10–20 years.”
Industry needs more effective tools and processes to make the case for chemical regulations that are based on sound science and account for the risk of exposure, as well as intended use, when regulations or private standards are set, Dooley says. Industry has generally had success at the federal and state regulatory levels, where it believes scientific data still help to carry the argument. “It’s a function of effective advocacy—but also a function of regulators relying on the science to make decisions,” Dooley says.
Private standards-setting bodies are another area of concern. The US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) standards are changing to potentially target specific chemicals and materials as part of a “healthy buildings” program, industry officials say. LEED points are given for buildings that commit to use of products and materials free of formaldehyde and limit the use of polyvinyl chloride and other products. “That will lead to product deselection over time,” Dooley says.
ACC officials add that the US chemical management regulatory framework needs to be strengthened to restore confidence in how products are regulated. The industry has aggressively pushed for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) since 2008. Industry welcomes the recent introduction of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D., NJ) and Senator David Vitter (R., LA), a bipartisan effort to modernize TSCA. ACC says the bill takes a comprehensive approach to updating the law, “which will give consumers more confidence in the safety of chemicals, while at the same time encouraging innovation, economic growth, and job creation by American manufacturers.”
Reform of TSCA will not be enough, Dooley adds. “TSCA reform won’t end this type of activity,” Dooley says. “NGOs have a business model that won’t change. However, successful TSCA reform would put us in a far stronger position to make a compelling case that products have been thoroughly assessed.” Effective reform can allow EPA to serve as a meaningful arbiter “and give the public and retailers more confidence in that determination.”
TSCA reform and voluntary product safety efforts will require closer work with downstream customers. Dooley says producers do not want to get between retailers and consumers, but “it is clear we need to work closer with them.”
“The product safety code is a continuation and evolution of practices that we have been on a glide path on for several years,” says Gary Shrum, Eastman director/product safety and health. It was critical for industry to look at market changes over the past few years, including the shift in what customers expect of suppliers. “It was important to take a fresh look and reset the baseline for what we’re doing in product safety.”
The product safety code will help establish a more effective framework to communicate about the health and safety of products in a rapidly changing environment, he adds. “We are on the cusp of new means to identify biological-chemical interactions,” Shrum says. Advances also make it easier to detect the presence of hazardous chemicals at ever-lower levels. “Presence doesn’t establish pathology. That is not a new concept. But, the nature of the discussion has changed because we can measure at smaller quantities and across broader bands of materials.”
Another significant addition to Responsible Care has been a new process safety code. The code will enable companies to better identify, prioritize, and mitigate any hazards and risks in their processes and better share information about such risks, to promote and enable safe practices in all of their operations. The process safety code was driven in part by the findings that came out of investigations of fatal accidents at BP’s Texas City, TX, refinery in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in 2010.
“We took a hard look at the findings, and there were some common issues that warranted a closer look,” says Debra Phillips, ACC’s managing director of Responsible Care and value chain outreach. The key changes involve building and measuring a safety culture, differentiating occupational safety from process safety, and focusing more on process safety competency. “There is a need for a clear and transparent mechanism up and down the organization,” Phillips says. “There has to be an ability for workers on down the line to feel free to bring information to light and not feel pressure to hide problems.”
Phillips notes that process safety has been part of Responsible Care since the start, since the development of the program was, in part, a response to the Bhopal, India, disaster. “Process safety is already well ingrained, but there were elements coming out of [the BP] investigations that seemed fresh,” Phillips says.
One of the key findings that emerged from the Baker panel’s report on BP’s Texas City accident and Deepwater Horizon accident was the need to move beyond statistical measurements of incidents, says Pete Lodal, technical fellow at Eastman and chair of the ACC’s process safety committee. “Incidents, frankly, are an indication of failure and a lagging indicator. Part of the challenge is how do you extend prescriptive regulatory requirements to efforts that prevent accidents in a more proactive way.” The code acknowledges the need to “strengthen efforts around softer issues, such as leadership, accountability, and culture.” Lodal adds that process safety has always been embedded in Responsible Care’s management system, and that reestablishing it as a stand-alone code highlights its importance.
Edward Rose, president/specialty chemicals at MeadWestvaco, says a key element of process safety is the recognition that process safety is distinct from occupational safety. “It is important to go beyond regulatory standards to take a more complete view of process safety,” Rose says. Companies need to avoid being lulled into thinking that meeting requirements such as OSHA’s process safety management standards are strong enough. “There are simple things and failures that can cause catastrophic events. The process safety code wraps its arms around entire facility” and not just the most hazardous elements of a process, Rose adds.
Commitment to a strong safety culture must start at the top of an organization, Rose notes. A MeadWestvaco senior executive is required on-site within 24 hours of a tier 1 or 2 OHSA recordable process incident. “When the plant sees leadership get involved, it gets attention,” Rose says.
Chemtura chairman and CEO Craig Rogerson says the code helps industry move beyond a focus on just regulatory requirements and elements such as recordable incident rates. “Process safety requires a more significant effort,” Rogerson says. “We needed something that went beyond measuring cuts and bruises. There has been a change of focus over last two years at Chemtura.” It is critical a take a broader approach than just measuring personnel safety and near misses, Rogerson adds. “You have to look at things like process hazard analysis for mechanical integrity and preventive maintenance. It is not just the most hazardous elements of a process.”
Rogerson says Chemtura is taking steps at the board level to take a more complete view of these issues. A portion of executive compensation has always been tied to the company’s total recordable case rates for full-time employees. That is now being expanded to include recordable rates for contractors, other elements of process safety, and environmental stewardship, he adds.
Assessing Responsible Care’s impact
Responsible Care has transformed industry by improving on environmental, health, and safety measures for the past 25 years, officials say. “By any credible measure, the industry and companies we represent operate more safely, with heightened consciousness about our performance in the critical areas that protect the health and lives of our workers, our customers, and our environment,” Royall says. “Responsible Care has been the driving force behind much of our progress.”
Royall says Responsible Care deserves credit for helping industry to develop technologies and processes that benefit both environmental performance and profitability. Royall cites two technology examples at Shell. One is its Omega technology for monoethylene glycol (MEG) production. Royall says the technology improves MEG yields by as much as 10% while cutting water use during manufacturing. Also, Shell’s latest styrene monomer–propylene oxide plants use 35% less energy for every ton of chemical produced, while air emissions have been cut by 90%, and liquid and solid waste is almost 100% recycled.
Shell has also upgraded internal safety guidelines and extended the effort beyond the company’s fence line. Shell today has processes to appraise customer unloading facilities. “We also encourage a responsible approach among logistics service providers by sharing safety initiatives with them and offering behavioral safety coaching,” Royall says. The company encourages logistics service providers to enroll in Responsible Care and “prefers to do business with the companies that have enrolled.” In the United States, for example, 90% of its road transport carriers are Responsible Care certified, he adds.
Dean Cordle, president of AC&S (Nitro, WV), a small blender with less than $10 million in revenues, joined ACC last year and says the impact of Responsible Care has already been meaningful. “As a whole, for a smaller company, Responsible Care is more difficult to implement,” Cordle says. However, the effort has been worth it, he adds. The company expects to be Responsible Care certified next year. “It has really raised the bar on performance within the company. It has been transformative,” Cordle says. Responsible Care has given the company a framework for management and improvement of critical environment, health, and safety issues, as well as the ability to communicate more effectively with employees and customers about what AC&S is doing in these areas.
Meeting stakeholder expectations
Feedback from customers and other stakeholders drove program changes, says Greg Babe, former CEO of Bayer and the prior chair of ACC’s Responsible Care board committee. “We heard a lot of ideas about what we needed to do and say as an industry on product and process safety,” Babe says. Consumer product companies such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble were active participants and provided input of what was required of industry.
Phillips says external members of the review panel were vocal about what they needed. “Customers are under sustainability pressures from stakeholders,” Phillips says. “They told us they want to make evaluations and industry has not been forthcoming or able to make the data available. They put a challenge to us around the transparency and to make sure we have complete data sets on our substances so we can share that information with value chain.”
Neil Hawkins, Dow v.p./sustainability and global environment, health, and safety, says the changes to Responsible Care acknowledge the changes in what customers expect. “It became apparent that two areas that needed to be addressed were process safety and product safety,” Hawkins says. “The changes are appropriate to make sure that for next decade that Responsible Care will address the areas of most interest to stakeholders around the business of making products safely and assuring that products will be used safely in commerce.”
Hawkins sees the potential for industry to benefit from the changes. “There will be more interaction from companies along the value chain,” Hawkins says. “It’s a more collaborative, rather than a regulatory-driven, approach. I view both codes as strengthening Responsible Care and as opportunities for a lot more transparency, collaboration, and ultimately, more innovation. It strengthens Responsible Care’s strong position as the gold standard for performance improvement. We’re in a period of changing stakeholder expectations. The more we listen, respond appropriately, and innovate, the more opportunity it creates for a more vibrant future for Responsible Care and the chemical industry.”
Royall says that changes to Responsible Care will help ACC and companies build “emotional capital” and confidence across the value chain. “We’ve heard from downstream customers,... ‘[W]e only hear from you after a bad incident’,” Royall says. “Now they’re hearing from us in a steady rhythm about what we are doing to make sure that products are safe. It’s still a challenge to get that capital built up.”
Development of codes such as product safety will require ACC to find credible referees to authenticate the effort, officials acknowledge. “You have to identify authentic referees who are credible on scientific grounds,” Royall says. “We have to present that things are being well managed and monitored—and we have to do that in a way people can understand. It’s not just the weight of evidence being thrown at people, but how can we present information in a way that can be evaluated.”
Rogerson notes that industry will also have to be transparent about the impact of product safety reviews, including decisions to withdraw or substitute products. “Credible examples will be important,” Rogerson says. “If we just compile the data and say, ‘Everything’s okay,’ that will be a problem.”
Under Responsible Care, producers are taking responsibility as manufacturers for what they are putting into the marketplace, Philips says. “We will tell value chain partners if uses are appropriate or not appropriate and better understand the impact of exposures downstream,” Phillips says. “We will take on a more active role in the value chain, and being more transparent was a big part of the conversation.”
Royall says Responsible Care makes industry stronger operationally and politically. “Responsible Care is the cornerstone of our industry advocacy efforts. This commitment—to environmental protection; to the efficient use of resources to provide safety; and the safety of our workers, our facilities, and the communities in which we operate—gives us the credibility we need when we are talking to policymakers and regulatory officials,” Royall says. “Responsible Care enables a better, more proactive position with regulators, elected officials, and public at large. It is endemic to our way of being, critical to our future, and helps all of us to protect and preserve our license to operate.”
Royall acknowledges that producers are often frustrated since it “seems that the occasional bad will get more constant recognition, while the more constant good we do is ignored,” Royall says. “I believe that Responsible Care is helping to change that.”
Connect with IHS Chemical Week
Our related sites