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Two Centuries of Process Safety at DuPont

James A. Klein, DuPont, Minneapolis, MN 55311

Since its founding as an explosives company in 1802, DuPont has had a core value for safety and process safety, with E. I. du Pont noting that "We must seek to understand the hazards we live with." The design of the first powder mills, for example, included consideration of such details as minimum safe distances between mills, proper siting and orientation of the production facilities, minimization of ignition sources, blast-resistant construction and over-pressure venting, all intended to help minimize the effects of any potential incidents.

In the early 1900's, DuPont aggressively expanded into new chemical businesses, and the company safety effort was re-organized in 1911. A corporate Safety Division was established in 1915, which was active making plant inspections, compiling and analyzing accident statistics, conducting special investigations of new processes, and participating in design reviews. About this time, the goal of zero injuries was first mentioned in corporate directives, and the success of these programs is evident from safety statistics, which show that injury rates and days lost were reduced by 90-95% from 1913 to 1931.

In many respects, the modern era of process safety at DuPont began with a serious process incident in Louisville, Kentucky in 1965. Following the incident, each site was asked to review their production facilities and procedures to assess the potential for catastrophic events and to take appropriate preventive measures. An annual review was also instituted to ensure that process additions or changes did not create new hazards. By 1973, detailed guidance was issued for conducting process hazard reviews, and a corporate guideline was issued in 1978. A comprehensive Process Safety Management guideline was issued in 1979. Following the Bhopal incident in 1984, changes were quickly made to reduce off-site risks, and new corporate guidelines were issued on Off-Site Risk Assessment, Community Preparedness, and Management of Highly Toxic Materials.

The continued dedication over 200 years to understand the hazards present in our processes, and in successfully managing them to prevent serious injuries and incidents, has contributed significantly to current process safety priorities and practices. Learning from experience what has worked and what hasn't both in our company and in the broader chemical industry, has been and continues to be essential for continuous improvement. Therefore, reviewing the past can help contribute to a stronger and safer future.