Why an ERA-NET on industrial safety?

Europe 2020 Strategy

  The three priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy are smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The plan for their implementation is included in the seven flagship initiatives put forward by the European Commission. "An industrial policy for the globalisation era" aims e.g. at promoting the competitiveness of Europe's primary, manufacturing and service industries. One of the key-factors and prerequisites for long-lasting competitiveness of European industry is safety: it is an important and contributing part of a successful and well managed business. In order to allow uninterrupted production of goods and thus profitable industrial production processes, the goal of a business-oriented approach should be to guarantee that the industrial production process is safe. Unsafe operations can influence business profitability through direct costs due to industrial accidents and disruption, but also due to a loss of credibility and reputation of individual businesses even of entire industrial sectors or branches. The commonly used phrase "If you think safety is expensive, try an accident" has become a reality in many industrial sectors.


Need of safety improvement

Safety, related to industrial activities, includes factors such as the safety of critical infrastructures, i.e., process industry, chemical industry as well as the production of oil and oil products, and their transport and distribution, as well as electricity generation, transmission and distribution, and transportation systems related to industrial activities, i.e. energy supply, railway and road networks, airports, harbours, inland shipping, etc. The reputation of the oil production sector has recently been tarnished by the major industrial disaster in the form of Gulf of Mexico oil spill which poured crude oil into the ocean for three months in spring 2010. It was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. It occurred after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig which killed instantly 11 platform workers and injured 17 others. The spill has been a terrible environmental disaster as well as damaging the Gulf's fishing and tourism industries. According to BP, the total charge for the incident is estimated to be $40 billion. The disaster has been predicted to have far reaching consequences sufficient to impact on global economies, marketplaces and policies, including structural shifts to energy policy, insurance underwriting and risk assessment, and potential liabilities of the order of tens of billions of US dollars.

   The largest accident in the chemical industry to date is the Bhopal Disaster which occurred in India in December 1984. In the disaster at a Union Carbide plant a faulty tank containing poisonous methyl isocyanate leaked causing the immediate death of several thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands have suffered physical injuries; this disaster has caused major health problems to the region's human and animal populations. After the Bhopal Disaster, concern about chemical accidents led to the passage of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA) in the United States. In the EU, the Council Directive 82/501/EEC on the major-accident hazards of certain industrial activities was issued already in 1982, and was amended after the Bhopal Disaster. The Directive, which was aimed at improving the safety of sites containing large quantities of hazardous materials, is also known as the Seveso Directive, after the Seveso disaster in July 1976. The Council Directive 96/82/EC on the control of major-accident hazards - the so-called Seveso II Directive - was adopted in 1996 and it has totally replaced its predecessor. The Seveso II Directive was extended to cover risks arising from storage and processing activities in mining, from pyrotechnic and explosive substances and from the storage of ammonium nitrate and ammonium nitrate based fertilizers. The industrial accidents that provoked to this development included an explosion at a fertilizer factory in Toulouse in 2001. It killed 29 people, injured another 2 500 and also caused extensive structural damage to buildings in the vicinity. A review of the Seveso II Directive is currently ongoing and implementation of the upcoming Seveso III Directive will create new research needs, requiring coordination of current national research programmes within EU if there is to be significant change in finding ways to resolve these traditional but still current problems such as the recurrent pollution from mining industries e.g. the Baia Mare cyanide spill in Romania in 2000 and Hungary’s red sludge spill in October 2010. According to the MARS database, about 30 major accidents take place annually in European Union. By definition, these accidents have the potential to cause significant harm to people and damage to the environment.

Need of coordination action

Prevention of major industrial accidents with off-site consequences to the environment, society and people is a challenge that has to be tackled through research which will subsequently lead to innovations to promote safe processes and products. New and innovative research approaches are also demanded for the management of potential risks emerging from the introduction of new technologies including “green technologies” and bio- and nanotechnologies. Research on safety and dissemination of results are essential for European industries. It enables the use of new technologies and innovations in order to avoid potential unnecessary fears of the general public which even lead to avoidance of novel innovations. These fears may cause severe damage to the competitiveness of European industry as demonstrated by the previous experience with GMO. Therefore, the prerequisite for improving the use of new technologies is open communication about the risks and their prevention based on joint research activities on industrial safety, and this will demand improved coordination and collaboration between national or regional research programmes.

Safety science is not, however, a single scientific discipline. It requires the co-operation of researchers from different backgrounds: engineering in order to analyze risks and to devise barriers, sociology to understand risk aversion to be sure that barriers are in accordance with stakeholders perceptions and expectations as well as to propose suitable consultation mechanisms, law to deal with accountability, etc. Today, research activities cannot be handled by individual disciplines instead one builds a research community bringing several disciplines to handle safety issues. Moreover, risk management approaches are strongly dependent on national cultures and regulations. Thus, national research programmes address safety from their own specific viewpoints. This proposed transnational joint research will represent an opportunity to understand how the most culturally diverse region in the world can share common European safety culture attributes.

Safety has traditionally been connected with regulations and norms aimed at the elimination or reduction of hazards and risks. However, the operational environment for safety research and safety regulation is changing because of globalization, complexity, changes in consumers’ values and increase of juridical and legal liabilities. There is an ongoing development leading to an increased value being placed on safety. Investments in safety are related not only to the reduction of financial losses caused by industrial accidents but it is also seen as an opportunity for sustainable business and competitiveness leading to industrial growth. Research-proven safety can provide a continuously increasing added value in several industrial sectors. Therefore, one important goal of safety research is to identify, assess and evaluate the impacts on all parts of the value chain to be impacted on by the increased safety and thus to help improve business profitability and development of new safety innovations. The generation of new business oriented safety innovations is of importance in order to enhance and develop the competitiveness of European industry. Furthermore, market driven development might be a much more effective driving force than regulative or legislation actions, and therefore the new innovative methods and tools for improving safety could well become a valuable asset in the future co-operation between companies and authorities. Though it is unlikely that market driven approaches with self-regulated programmes led by the industry could entirely replace regulatory actions, but a balance between the two forces should be found, also through research.

There are many different aspects to industrial safety, as shortly illustrated above. In many European countries, research programmes are targeted to topics aimed at the improvement of safety related to industrial activities, including fixed installations in production systems, transportation systems, as well as safety and security of critical infrastructures. Defragmentation is essential in the area of safety research, and the SAF€RA project will aim at overcoming the fragmented R&D landscape in these fields and will stress the importance of tackling urgent common subjects that would not otherwise be conducted unless in partnership. The subjects have to be relevant to support European global competitiveness as described in the EU2020 Strategy and to contribute to creating the European Research Area. It is within the scope of the SAF€RA to address the issue of finding the optimal balance between investment in safety and the growth and competitiveness of industry, which will potentially help to improve long-term performance and to generate markets for safety solutions. One important extension of the cost-benefit analysis is to develop common good practices and basic principles for legislation and standards. Cooperation and exchange of expertise will be sought with other ERA-NETs and Technology Platforms in the area of industrial safety and security of critical infrastructure to synergize strategies and to avoid duplication of efforts.