During the past 30 years, the 100 largest property damage losses in the energy and chemical industries have cost approximately $33 billion,
not to mention the fatalities, injuries, environmental damage, and loss of production.
As professional engineers ethically dedicated to protecting the safety, health, and
welfare of the public as well as protecting
the environment for future generations, the
need for safer process industries is clear.
Process plants can be dangerous places.
We work with energy products and chemical transformations that are driven by
energy, and often hazardous substances
or conditions must be employed. The fuels
and industrial chemicals we use can be
hazardous: fuels burn readily, with the
release of energy; chemical reactions often
involve large amounts of energy; and reactive chemicals can harm people and the
Making a refinery or a chemical plant
“inherently safe” may not be possible, but
plants often can be made inherently safer
through an approach pioneered by Trevor
Kletz in response to the 1974 tragedy in
The Flixborough disaster occurred at
a chemical plant with a very large inventory of hot liquid and flammable hydrocarbons. At the plant, cyclohexane was
oxidized with air to a mixture of cyclo-hexanol and cyclohexanone, which are
intermediates in the manufacture of nylon
6. Even with six large reactors operating at
155 degrees C and 10 atmospheres pressure, only 6% conversion was achieved by
each pass through the reactor train. The
six reactors were connected in a series,
with each reactor successively lower than
the previous reactor, so that the reacting
cyclohexane could flow by gravity from the
first to the second, the second to the third,
and so forth.