If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Plant Security Measures Criticized

Union worker survey questions companies' antiterrorism efforts

by Jeff Johnson
November 8, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 44

  Acording to a survey of union workers at 125 U.S. companies that make or use large quantities of hazardous chemicals, many of the security measures taken by these companies since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are inadequate to protect the company, its workers, and the community.

The Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers International Union (PACE) surveyed local union leadership at 189 industrial sites where PACE represents nearly 50,000 workers. The sites are among some 15,000 identified by the federal government as meriting special attention due to their use of highly hazardous chemicals.

Of these, local union leadership at 125 of the plants responded, saying an accident there could be catastrophic. Most (58%) are chemical plants and refineries.

The survey finds that workers at more than half the plants believe they face a high or medium likelihood of a catastrophic event due to a terrorist attack (54%) or accident (59%). Workers in only 38% of the 125 plants believe company plans to respond to a potential terrorist attack are adequate.

The survey says two-thirds of the plants have assessed their vulnerability to a terrorist attack since 9/11, but less than half the companies have taken preventive actions to reduce a catastrophic event’s impact. The actions taken have focused mostly on guards and plant security (76%) and less on making processes inherently safer or reducing hazardous material storage (17%).

PACE officials note limitations in the report because it is based on “perceptions” rather than independent assessments. However, it offers one of the few views into plant security measures taken by companies making or using hazardous chemicals.

Although about two-thirds of the companies had provided some level of training since 9/11, the survey finds that 75% of workers believe they need more training to prevent or respond to a terrorist attack or accident.

A majority of respondents say companies had not involved workers and unions in plans to prevent or respond to an accident or attack. The report says respondents were unaware whether companies had informed nearby communities of potential threats from an incident. In addition, the report recommends that companies move beyond focusing on physical security by encouraging inherently safer processes and offering better emergency training, communication, and preparation that includes workers and community members.

That view is shared by Carolyn W. Merritt, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board, who reviewed the report. Merritt says her board’s investigations of chemical plant accidents turned up similar problems of inadequate emergency planning and training and community notification procedures. These shortcomings have led to injuries, particularly among police, fire, and other emergency personnel, she says.

An official with the American Chemistry Council withheld comment on the report, noting that it is unclear which companies responded or whether they participate in ACC’s internal plant security program. ACC backs security legislation to cover all companies that use large quantities of hazardous chemicals, she adds, but such a bill has been blocked in Congress.

The PACE study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a part of the National Institutes of Health, through its Worker Education & Training Program.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.