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  • Writer's pictureDale Allen

Chemical Incidents and Why they Actually Helped Us

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

Chemical incidents can be really nasty business.

A large number of the chemicals we use in our industries are highly hazardous and a lot of them can explode, ignite or just outright melt through something if used or stored incorrectly.

And while our regulations for chemical safety have improved over the years, there have been some major oversights too. It's unfortunately true that there have been some pretty catastrophic chemical incidents around the world.

In fact, several of the chemical safety laws put in place to govern the safe handling and use of chemicals came about as a direct result of some of these incidents. Take the chemical explosion on the 1st of June in 1974 that brought about the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Advisory Committee on Major Hazards. A large explosion caused massive damage at a Nypro site in Flixborough in the UK and killed 28 workers and injured a further 36. The number of deaths and injuries could have been a lot higher, but since the explosion happened on a weekend much of the office block was unoccupied. Just 25 months later on the 10th of July 1976 in Seveso, Italy, a bursting disc on a chemical reactor ruptured. The result was plumes of dense white vapour clouds leaving the building through a vent in the roof and floating offsite at altitude, only to rain down on a town 15 miles away. Unfortunately, that cloud contained 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, which is highly toxic to human health and the environment.

While there were no human deaths attributed to the accidental release of the vapour cloud there were several thousand dead animals found in the affected area and 26 pregnant women underwent abortions. The incident in Seveso led to the Seveso Directive, meant to bring more consistent chemical safety measures to Europe and was mainly influenced by the ACMH, created in 1974 after the Flixborough incident. Both of these incidents happened because of poor communication and lack of proper risk assessments or control measures.

However, both incidents also, eventually, brought about improved methods to identify and reduce potential risks. Now, fast-forward to 2005 in Texas, USA. An explosion at the BP Texas City refinery, on March 23rd, killed 15 people and injured many more.

In those almost 30 years, the methods and training we used to keep people safe from chemicals had massively improved, but it's clear that it still wasn't enough. The incident at the BP refinery was caused by operator inattention, poorly maintained instrumentation and lack of proper risk assessments and control measures. On the 4th of March 2015, just two and half years ago, there were 2 unrelated chemical incidents, which both occurred in separate universities. A student was injured in a chemical explosion at the University of Liverpool, and just 2-3 hours later, there was an evacuation at the University of Manchester because of incorrectly stored acetone peroxide. If it's allowed to crystallise it becomes unstable, highly explosive and can react to as little as mild heating or shock. While it's clear that our chemical safety laws and regulations have improved, there is still much more room for improvement. Many of the chemical incidents from our past could have been avoided with proper attention to risk, control and actual training.

Instead of becoming the reason we need to further restrict the use of hazardous substances.

That's why I created the new COSHH Risk Assessor Certification™. It's free and it's designed to remedy the issues I found in today's chemical safety training. I will teach you everything you need to know about chemical safety, risk assessments and how to properly ensure the safety of yourself, your employees and your business.

The International Association for Chemical Safety Free COSHH Accreditation Course

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