Occupational safety

Occupational safety

“Safety on the job” is a measure that was initiated to improve ALTANA’s occupational safety. The project was launched in 2011 within the framework of the Management Development Program (MDP). The project team, with members from Germany, China, and the U.S., sought out best practice examples internally and externally, as well as the most successful methods and systems. To this end, a questionnaire, among other things, was developed and distributed to the managers responsible for Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) in order to find best practice examples. The questionnaire included questions about management and leadership, about jobs, training programs, and safe handling of hazards and hazardous substances.

The goal was to develop a globally implementable tool that, among other things, takes into account the cultural particularities of the different regions. To achieve this aim, interviews were conducted in Europe, China and the U.S. In the end, two methods were selected that were tested in pilot projects at several sites on three continents. As of 2013, all ALTANA companies are required to conduct annual self-assessments. The Group's EH&S department coordinates the survey, whose results are discussed at the annual EH&S meeting. The second method provides for an evaluation of a factory’s operational safety culture by external experts. For this purpose, employees, superiors (foremen, and so on) and the management are surveyed (see information box). The advantages: More topics are covered, the survey is more objective, and it provides important results due to a direct comparison of the different hierarchy levels.

Content of the survey on safety culture

  • Significance / value of safety
  • Quality of daily management and leadership
  • Quality of risk management
  • Information and communication
  • Development of safe conduct
  • Development of safety competence

ECKART launched a comparable safety culture project involving external evaluations. In this project, too, safety-relevant organization and the regulations were examined; interviews were conducted with the management, department heads, and employees; and questions were asked about safety policy, management and leadership, and the use of classic tools such as training programs, inspections, causal analysis, and risk evaluations. The results show that ECKART is on the right track, but there is considerable room for improvement, e.g. regarding correct behavior, which is influenced significantly by the managers.

Less exposure to chemicals

ALTANA has introduced manifold technical measures to decrease employees’ contact with chemicals, e.g. with closed metering systems for solvents. In 2012, the company invested in new tanks at ELANTAS in Hamburg, in Ankleshwar, India, in Zhuhai, China, and at ACTEGA in Sedan, France. And to protect employees of ACTEGA Rhenania from dust from nanomaterial, a closed production facility was built.

In open facilities, the air quality at the workplace is measured, for example, to gauge the amount of nano dust at ECKART. Whether this material is actually a nanomaterial depends on the definition and measuring methods. As the European Union has not made a definitive decision on this matter yet, it cannot be assessed conclusively. Only one dimension of the ECKART pigments in question is in the nano range. As a result, it cannot be concluded that there will be a migration through biological membranes, e.g. the skin, and the  toxicological risks can be assessed as low.

Measurement of nanoparticles

The following methods were used for the complex measurement of nanoparticles:

  • Condensation particle counter (CPC)
  • Scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS)
  • Welas optical particle counter
    (scattered light measurement)
  • Scanning electron microscopy

Measurements using four different methods (see information box) were carried out at ECKART at nine different places in production and in the laboratory. In such measurements, the fact that nanoparticles naturally exist in air is taken into account. To achieve valid evaluations, the natural proportion of nanoparticles is measured first. The values lie between 10,000 and 20,000 nanoparticles (P) per cm³ of air. A significant increase at the workplaces could not be observed. By comparison, the nanoparticle pollution in road traffic is approximately 40,000 P/cm³ and in a smoking room as high as 100,000 P/cm³.

Similar measurements were performed at BYK in the lab, where work with nanomaterial is done in so-called fume hoods, in an effort to limit exposure to nanoparticles in the laboratory’s air. According to the measurements, the background concentration in the lab tested is comparably low. The main reason for this is probably the high air exchange rate with filtered air. But even with a significant increase in particles in the room air (highest measured value: 1,400 P/cm³), the base level of particle concentration was achieved in just a few minutes due to the high air exchange rate and the suction power of the fume hoods.

Using more harmless substances

Wherever possible, we refrain from using hazardous substances or replace them with less dangerous ones. Examples are the sealants PROVALIN and PROVAMED (see also page 22), which do not need plasticizers. Consequently, a hazardous substance has been eliminated at our production sites and our clients no longer have cause for concern when using our substances for their applications.

We also seek to replace organic solvents, most of which are highly flammable and detrimental to health, with alternative substances such as water. This aim is primarily driven by the desire to reduce ozone pollution or so-called summer smog. Among the causes are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), emitted, for example, from coatings containing solvents. In 2012, ACTEGA produced around 117,000 tons of coatings containing approximately 37,000 tons of water as a replacement for solvent. ALTANA plans to replace even more solvent with water in the future.

E-learning enables individualized learning

Training and education are important ways to improve safety, as only through such measures can employees learn and internalize appropriate safety-relevant modes of behavior. Theoretical procedural guidelines alone are not sufficient. E-learning has already proven successful in compliance training (see also page 11). A big advantage of learning on the computer is the flexibility, as each participant can study individually, based on the time available to them and their learning speed. In addition, several employees do not have to take off work at the same time, which can lead to problems, e.g. in production. Another benefit of e-learning is that the person studying keeps on taking the concluding test until he or she has understood all of the subject matter. ELANTAS Beck in Hamburg has used e-learning since 2012 for safety briefings. If the results are positive, this will surely become a best practice example for other ALTANA companies.

Also in 2012, ELANTAS Beck introduced the Behavior Based Safety (BBS) program to improve occupational safety. In BBS, qualified employees observe the behavior of their colleagues with an eye to safety and immediately give them positive or negative feedback. The results are statistically evaluated, thus showing where action needs to be taken. ACTEGA Rhenania has made great progress in occupational safety with BBS and other measures, including closer scrutiny of safe behavior by foremen. The excellent result: 22 accident-free months.

The target is zero

ELANTAS Beck India also has a positive safety record. This is due not least to the annual National Safety Day, in which many of the plant’s employees take part. Under the motto “zero accidents,” fire drills, a safety quiz, and written competitions are organized, and information stands inform the workforce about how to avoid accidents at their workplace.

In 2012, ECKART organized safety days under the motto “no risk allowed.” The employees in Güntersthal had the opportunity to visit a mobile exhibition mounted by the German Employers' Liability Insurance Association for Raw Materials and Chemical Industry (BG RCI) devoted to safe driving and minimizing transport risks. They received information about how to recognize and deal with dangers, what constitutes good safety training, vision and visibility, and corresponding best practice examples. In addition, employees were advised about what kind of safety boots and goggles to wear, as well as about respiratory and hearing protection. Explosion protection training will be offered next.

Technical occupational safety

ALTANA also applies on technical measures to minimize incidents causing damage and their consequences. For example, ELANTAS Beck uses an infrared camera to detect possible weaknesses in the electricity grid that could lead to overheating. ELANTAS Beck India built a new firewater basin with a volume of 25,000 m³ that contains a unit for dispensing fire-extinguishing foam. At ELANTAS PDG, a CO2 extinguisher in an existing production plant that poses risks to people was replaced by a waterbased sprinkler system including a catch basin. Furthermore, fall protection when employees climb onto tankers was improved. ACTEGA DS installed a blasting cubicle for safe cleaning of extruder screws and began operating a new testing facility with explosion protection that is significantly safer than the previous system. At ACTEGA Rhenania, steel platforms were reinforced to improve earthquake protection and footpaths were labeled to protect pedestrians from forklift traffic. ACTEGA Foshan erected a new pumping station for its tank farm at a suitable distance from the tanks.