Continuing on our Road to Zero – Process Safety

Though we took the time throughout 2021 to share our Life-saving Golden Rules, reflecting on incidents and near misses that reminded us why these rules are so important, we continue to look forward to where we can grow in our safety methods on our Road to Zero injuries. One of these areas of growth, and one where we will continue to focus on 2022, is Process Safety.

Process Safety, differing from Personal Safety, focuses on preventing major accidental releases of energy. This includes structural, chemical, fire and explosion incidents from high-risk processes and equipment that we use in our facilities. Addressing Process Safety adequately requires a detailed risk assessment of the design, maintenance, and operation of those processes and equipment. Application of critical controls such as maintenance inspections, complex monitoring, interlocks, and alarm/relief systems, along with emergency preparedness, are all layers of Process Safety protection. This addresses hazards that are less obvious to an employee. Behavioural aspects of Personal Safety, although very important for overall incident prevention, might not address a hidden risk such as failure of a structural component, bursting of a pressurized pipe or vessel, or the release of hazardous materials.

Why this is important

History has proven that even small errors in a very good system can lead to catastrophe: NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia explosion in 2003; the BP refinery explosion in 2005; the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010; the Chevron Refinery Fire in 2012; and many more. Following the serious chemical accidents in Seveso, Italy in 1976 and in Bhopal, India in 1984, there were increased efforts in North America and Europe to define measures to prevent future accidents in chemical plants and the processing of large quantities of hazardous substances. These led to the development of the  Process Safety Management System in North America including a CSA and OSHA standard referenced in many jurisdictional safety regulations. These regulations apply to high-risk industrial settings such as chemical manufacturing facilities, energy generation plants and our pulp mills.

In Europe, there was a similar approach after these accidents. Here, the regulations were compiled in the European Seveso Directive. This was also further developed and is now available as the Seveso III Directive. This is binding for plants processing hazardous substances above certain quantities. However, it is also a good basis for other operators to ensure the safe operation of their plants. 

The PSM system in North America, and the adopted approach in Europe, have evolved over the years and include 14 elements, most of which play an important role in occupational health and safety. It is Mercer’s intention to collectively increase our understanding of Process Safety Management, continuing to build on the identification of high-risk processes and equipment and evaluating the layers of protection to adequately control the risk.

Process Safety at Mercer

We are fortunate to have many systems in place that address Process Safety Management in our pulp mills but there are always opportunities for improvement. An important element for plant safety includes the “Pre-Startup Safety Review”. This inspection is to be carried out before the start of production and to uncover any safety deficiencies that may exist so that these can still be remedied in good time.

In our harvesting, transport, sawmills and mass timber facilities, process safety includes focusing on the inspection, integrity and maintenance of the facilities and equipment used in the processes. Process safety combined with a strong culture of dynamic risk assessment and solid behaviour decisions is the recipe for world-class performance.

Our local Health & Safety Managers will be working diligently to communicate our work and findings on Process Safety to their operations. We look forward to our team members’ curiosity on the subject and to their active involvement with this improvement initiative. Collaboration between our many departments – from Engineering and Operations to Maintenance to IT – is critical in our Process Safety Success.