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Thoughts to ponder from ASTI Safety Day

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By Andrew Perks

We all talk about the issues and problems that Covid has brought about, but there certainly have been some benefits such as what I took out of the Ammonia Safety Training Institutes (ASTI) 28th Safety Day held in August 2021.

If you don’t understand the process fully it really is not possible to be safe – rather stay away from the system. Image credit: ©Cold Link Africa

If you don’t understand the process fully it really is not possible to be safe – rather stay away from the system. Image credit: ©Cold Link Africa

Take for instance the advent of Zoom and its widely used applications. Five years ago, who would have thought that we would be doing all the new tech stuff we can now do today? Thanks to this I have had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of conferences and meetings that I most certainly would never have gotten to, whilst sitting in front of my computer in my office in Cape Town. On the flip side there is also the conference I should have been at in the US last year but that’s another story.

For those of you that have never heard of ASTI – they are a leading light in the ammonia safety training field. Their material is outstanding, and they have made it their aim to make the ammonia industry a safer place to be. That said, every year they hold safety days where they get together industry leaders from IIAR, the Fire Services, First Responders, suppliers and the problematic part of the industry – the guys in the field.

I spent the equivalent of two days logging into the virtual conference and just absorbing the wealth of experience and knowledge that a round table conference can provide. We complain about all the legislation that we have to put up with, but be grateful we do not have anything like the US. They have legislation with teeth!

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One of the issues raised was legislative requirements versus site risk assessment and the deemed response to match the situation on hand. Now we all know that theory is one thing, but the actual situation requires a degree of flexibility. Seems their legal system, until recently, did not allow for that, and there was always the possibility of massive fines for non-compliance. Apparently, this look like it is changing. It’s the old adage; get it right and you are a hero, get it wrong and watch out.

There were so many pearls of wisdom that I am going to jump around a bit over the next few months and try to relate some of these to you. One of them that resonated with me was the issue of cause and effect. When we look at major incidents, in fact any incident, we are always amazed at the series of events that lead to the incident. So many times we find that the perpetrator that has been pivotal to the incident, just did not understand the implications of their actions.

If you don’t understand the process fully, it really is not possible to be safe – rather stay away from the system. Accidents don’t just happen; they are a series of insignificant events/occurrences that culminate into an incident.

So often when we look back, we can see the event unfolding. As they say hindsight is an exact science. We end up performing safety short cuts, the full procedure SOP takes too long, and we got away with it before anyway – we are far too busy to take the long way around. Then soon this becomes the new way to do it, the norm.

You probably have a wealth of experience behind you but what about the guy that follows you, it’s our responsibility to train people we work with. Wait around a bit and here comes the predictable surprise.

Take the Challenger disaster where 7 people died on blast off all because a predictable fault was accepted as there was built in redundancy, but that failed as well. Again the hindsight thing. We need to take into account escalating factors, we need to understand what exactly we are handling and if we don’t know, find out. It’s up to us to get the right training, to stay safe and protect those who could be in danger.

Safety needs to be a lifestyle – we need to develop a safety culture before the incident. I have a lot to share with you on this, so hang in there and look out for this in my future columns.

Until next time, stay safe!

About Andrew Perks

Image credit: Andrew Perks

Image credit: Andrew Perks

Andrew Perks is a subject expert in ammonia refrigeration. Since undertaking his apprenticeship in Glasgow in the 1960s he has held positions of contracts engineer, project engineer, refrigeration design engineer, company director for a refrigeration contracting company and eventually owning his own contracting company and low temperature cold store. He is now involved in adding skills to the ammonia industry, is merSETA accredited and has written a variety of unit standards for SAQA that define the levels to be achieved in training in our industry.

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