Solutia Plant Develops Award-Winning Chemical Safety Model
Nighswonger, Todd, Occupational Hazards
Chocolate Bayou facility finds that sweet taste of success is not enough as safety team searches for injury-free workplace.
Lethal substances are found throughout Solutia's chemical plant at Chocolate Bayou, Texas. One of the most prominent is hydrogen cyanide (HCN), which can be instantly fatal in large doses. Smaller doses can lead to death in 30 minutes or less.
The facility, located near Alvin, may be next to a waterway with a sweet-sounding name, but don't be fooled. Solutia's Chocolate Bayou plant has the potential to be a deadly workplace.
"This isn't a candy factory, and the things we deal with have significant risks if you don't handle them correctly and follow procedures," said Rick D. Brown, the plant's safety operations supervisor.
HCN is a byproduct of acrylonitrile, a key raw material for five of the company's 10 businesses, used to make carpet fibers and acrylic fabrics. Other lethal substances found at the site include hydrogen fluoride, which can irritate the respiratory tract and eyes. Exposure to high levels can be fatal in five minutes.
Concern about these deadly chemicals would keep any safety manager vigilant in preventing exposure to workers or the community.
At Chocolate Bayou, safety is intertwined in every aspect of the facility, from the plant manager to contract janitorial workers. The plant's environmental, safety and health (ESH) department, which includes five people on the safety team, three industrial hygienists, five environmental members and a medical team, provides management of the safety culture, but the line workers must live it.
"We don't own the safety and environmental process," said Mike C. Murphy, senior safety specialist. "We have 600 people who own it. Our role is to facilitate change. The individual is responsible for his own safety and his department's safety."
"The safety team generally is the last to know about injuries and to respond, except in emergency situations," said Don L. Meade, the ESH team leader. "We purposely create a safe environment by driving it into the organization."
The safety culture has propelled the plant to numerous national and state awards (see Award Highlights) and produced one of the best chemical safety records in the industry. There has not been a fatality at the site in more than 20 years.
The Solutia plant is an OSHA Voluntary Protection Program Star site and has achieved International Standards Organization (ISO) 140001 certification for environmental management. The site has won nearly 90 awards.
Chocolate Bayou's total recordable injury rate (TIR) has been below 1.0 the past six years and likely will finish below that number in 1999. The TIR has been as low as 0.43, in 1995, and has been no higher than 0.56 since then. The industry (SIC Code 2869) TIR average for 1997 was 4.3, with a lost workday rate in 1997 of 1.8. The Solutia site has had a lost workday rate of no higher than 0.28 in the last …
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Publication information: Article title: Solutia Plant Develops Award-Winning Chemical Safety Model. Contributors: Nighswonger, Todd - Author. Magazine title: Occupational Hazards. Volume: 61. Issue: 10 Publication date: October 1999. Page number: 77. © 2008 Penton Media, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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