"Inherently safer process assessments can be valuable components of process safety management that can help a facility consider the full range of options in process design," the report said. "However, inherently safer process assessments will not always result in a clear, well-defined, and feasible path."
At Bayer, for example, the panel noted that one option for eliminating the plant's MIC stockpile would have been to make the chemical as it was needed, rather than in large batches that would be drawn down on over time. But doing that, the report said, would have meant starting and stopping units more frequently, which creates a different set of risks, especially for workers.
The panel noted that Bayer actually made some strides over the years in reducing its MIC inventory and in adding additional safety features to its MIC-related units. But, the panel report said, the notion of switching away from a dangerous chemical like MIC altogether is something that often goes against the traditional way companies make decisions.
"This bias in favor of an existing production process is not surprising and may even reflect the optimal decision, especially from the company's point of view," the report said.
"'Steel in the ground' is a powerful motivator," the report said. "It avoids the up-front capital costs of a new process, along with any uncertainties about how well the process will operate or what its operating cost will be. Critically and objectively reviewing a process that has been in operation for many years can be difficult for those working at a chemical production facility."
The panel recommended that the Chemical Safety Board "or other entity" convene a working group "to chart a plan for incorporating decision theory frameworks into inherently safer process assessments."
In a prepared statement, board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso did not indicate if the board would follow that recommendation, but said he hopes the new report "will serve as an important model for both Bayer and the chemical industry sector about how to assess and reduce toxic chemical hazards and build effective relationships with the surrounding community."
Bayer spokesman Greg Coffey said the company is reviewing the report.
The environmental group Greenpeace said another working group is not needed and that the CSB should instead press the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to use existing authorities to require companies to use safer chemical-making processes.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.