Editor's comment: 'Be Smart, Safe Restart'

Published: 13 June 2020 - 2 a.m.
By: Martin Menachery

Covid-19 pandemic continues its havoc on almost every sector of the industry all over the world. The devastation it created on the livelihood of people is too alarming. Unemployment is at an unbelievable level and migrant workers are one of the most negatively impacted groups in the catastrophe.

All segments of the downstream industry are seriously affected, transportation fuel sector being a typical example, as the world came to a complete lockdown. Recently, the ICIS Petrochemical Index plunged to a level last seen in November 2003 and is just below that in January 2009. However, healthcare sector fighting the pandemic and the segments providing essential supplies to the sector are working overtime in this global flight against coronavirus. Here, downstream industry plays a vital role in the supply chain.

Even though Covid-19 came in as a shock to the political and industry leaders as well as common people, the resolve to fight it gained momentum very fast, and science, technology, human resources and political will are working in tandem around the world to mitigate its impact. Then came in the narration that Covid-19 is going to be there around us for a long time, and we all have to live with this new 'normal'.

Slowly, countries around the world started relaxing on the complete lockdown, even though it will take many more months, if not few years, to bring in complete removal of the lockdown. As a result, the manufacturing units around the world, which went into shutdown, are in preparation, looking at how the facilities could be restarted at the appropriate time, without any safety incidents.

Downstream industry is highly complex with many unit operations, high temperatures and pressures, and a very large number of hazardous substances involved in operations. Restarting a downstream facility shutdown due to Covid-19 pandemic requires proper guidelines, to be on safer side completely.

International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) has recently issued information to guide chemical companies restarting facilities post Covid-19 shutdowns. According to ICCA, one of the many unforeseen consequences of the global Covid-19 pandemic is the potential impact on chemical manufacturing facilities that have had to shut down operations for days, or even weeks, and then restart their manufacturing processes. Majority of chemical facility incidents occur during facility start-up, according to the US Chemical Safety Board. For example, in the United States, process safety incidents are five times more likely to occur during start-up as compared to normal operations.

ICCA developed a guidance document to address this scenario, 'Be Smart, Safe Restart: Restarting Chemical Production Facilities Post Covid-19 Restrictions', in order to prompt owners and operators of chemical production facilities to consider how the unique circumstances created by Covid-19 may have impacted their ability to restart safely. According to ICCA, it is circulating these guidelines to chemical manufacturing companies around the globe via their national chemical associations and is translating it into several languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Hindi, Mandarin, Thai, Malay and Korean. The most appropriate approach for downstream industry companies restarting the facilities, which are shutdown due to Covid-19, would be to do it as per the ICCA 'Be Smart, Safe Restart' guidelines.

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