In a few weeks’ time, the annual cavalcade will roll into town. Participants will dust off their best frocks and suits, the Press will be there to capture eagerly awaited pronouncements and images of the glitterati. An august auditorium will host the proceedings. And a hush will come over the audience as the lights dim for the first time.

Oh and in an unrelated development, the 90th Academy Awards will take place on the 4th of March 2018…..

I’m eulogising, of course, about Hazards 28 – one of the world’s most prestigious Process Safety Gathering. For 2 days in May, international Process Safety stakeholders gather in the gorgeous Scottish capital to present the latest cutting-edge ideas. From a large consignment of abstracts, a mere 70 papers met the exacting criteria of the Hazards selections committee to win an oral presentation place – by coincidence, a similar number to the nominees for the afore-mentioned Oscars.

Where these two esteemed events diverge, however, is that, as far as I’m aware, no awards are presented to reflect the impact of the presentations on the audience.

Which, in my view, is a pity.

The benefit of awards to Hollywood is marketing and therefore money. It seems (and is) crass, but makes sense when you consider that the purpose of Hollywood is…, cash. Here in the world of Process Safety, I think we would like to feel we exist on a slightly more elevated moral plain. However, I would argue, that we don’t and for good reason. The provenance of Process Safety is multiple and varied, but one of it’s constituents is Du Pont at its Brandywine facility in the US.

Founded by Eleuthère Irénéé du Pont (1771-1834), the Brandywine River Mills became the largest maker of explosive black powder in the United States. In 1802 he sited and began building the mill along the Brandywine River near Wilmington. In 1803 the mill refined its first saltpeter, and du Pont notified family-friend President Thomas Jefferson and soon received Army contracts for refining saltpeter, followed by substantial orders for gunpowder. Brandywine River Powder Mills produced its first gunpowder in 1803.

An explosion in 1815 resulted in 9 deaths, which were the first company casualties, and another serious explosion that occurred in 1818 resulted in 34 deaths, which remains the worst process incident in DuPont company history. There was considerable negative publicity from these deaths, which threatened damaging financial implications for the company should they be repeated. Accordingly, these incidents were investigated, and recommendations implemented. Two years following the major explosion in 1818, changes had been made and it was noted that:

‘We have last Thursday another accident in one of our mills which has been attended to with some satisfaction, as nobody was injured, and it has proved a fair experiment that upon the plan on which our mills are now built we have not to fear any general explosion like the one which happened here two years ago. From the particular construction of the mill the effects of the explosion have been directed in such a way so as not to communicate to any other part of the works. The whole of our mills are now constructed on that safe plan.’

In our industry, we’re used to reacting to incidents so as to make the future safer. In the same way, I think we should be pro-acting and enthusing about the best ideas we have. And one small way to achieve this is to encourage the Hazards 28 delegates to rate the sessions they attended (Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor?) and return the rating sheet to the organisers (with the incentive of being included in a prize draw – 1st prize champagne of course!). This would have two benefits. It would provide the presenters with some crude but useful feedback (if an average mark was also included). Secondly, it would enable the awards to be presented and marketed so that our best new ideas can be given a boost.

Of course, in terms of ‘bums on cinema seats’, we’re not really in the same league as Oscar. But, on the other hand, just how many future lives has he ever saved?

hazards 28