Industrial and environmental safety
In the Netherlands, there is limited space available for living and working. People want a healthy and safe environment to live in, and businesses want to retain space for economic growth. The ongoing search for making optimum use of the limited land available, while maintaining a high level of safety, is the focus of industrial and environmental safety.
Industrial and environmental safety concerns the risks associated with the use and transport of hazardous substances, the safety of installations and facilities, and the safety of new and rapidly emerging technologies. Here, both the calculated risks, which are at times associated with major uncertainties, as well as the perceived risks are of importance.
RIVM Industrial and Environmental Safety is the Dutch knowledge and research centre for industrial and environmental safety, which provides advice and support to government bodies in meeting their responsibilities in the area of policy and implementation.
RIVM Industrial and Environmental Safety currently works on an range of research fields. Examples are the adaptation to the new environmental legislation in the Netherlands, the ageing of the high risk (petro)chemical sector, and the perception of safety of residents living close to chemical industry sites.
A new handbook for a new policy on environmental safety in relation to land use planning
The environmental legislation in the Netherlands changes in 2021. In this year, the so-called Omgevingswet will come into effect. To facilitate this process, the RIVM created a handbook that provides information on environmental safety in relation to land use planning. Besides background information, the handbook also offers methods that can be used by the competent authorities, policy makers and other stakeholders to develop their choices in regard to land use planning.
For example, the handbook contains methods to determine in which areas (extra) attention is needed for protection against fire, explosion or toxic clouds as a result of a possible/potential accident with hazardous substances. Additionally, the handbook also provides insight in which measures could offer feasible protection in such areas.
‘Ageing’ is a relevant topic in discussions regarding the current safety of the (petro)chemical industry sector in the Netherlands, as various installations are approaching the end of their lifespan. There are several types of ageing, namely ageing of installations and machines, ageing of knowledge and procedures and ageing of employees. Paying attention to the various aspects of ageing plays a vital role in both maintaining and improving the safety of the (petro)chemical sector, and thereby reducing the number of incidents.
RIVM Industrial and Environmental Safety actively cooperates with governmental institutions and industry sectors to ensure an ongoing dialogue, concrete measures and an increase of knowledge regarding the topic of ageing. Recently, the RIVM published two reports, presenting an overview of 1) the occurrence of incidents with ageing related causes and 2) the status of the awareness of ageing in various chemical companies. Currently, the RIVM focusses on creating ageing profiles for specific installation types. These profiles disclose information and steps that help to recognize ageing effects. Going forward, RIVM will continue analyzing developments regarding ageing-related incidents, contributing to the body of knowledge in the ageing field, and promoting awareness of ageing in the (petro)chemical industry.
Safety perception close to industry sites
Insight into perception of risks and safety is increasingly important for policy makers as well as risk communicators. To support this trend, the RIVM has developed a tool to gauge the safety perception of residents living near chemical industry sites (where activities involving hazardous substances are present). A (first) pilot was carried out in 2018 to develop the initial version of the tool, test the tool and obtain indicative results. The pilot was conducted in two cities: one city with a high density of chemical industry (Zaandam) and a city with a low density of chemical industry (Deventer).
This tool consists of a questionnaire that provides insight into how safe persons living near chemical industry feel with regard to activities involving hazardous substances. The answers also indicate which factors are related with their feeling of safety. The questionnaire turns out to be a suitable tool for gauging perception of safety. Measurements can also be repeated to reveal trends over time.
The result of the pilot should be considered indicative, as the participants of the pilot did not form a sufficiently representative sample of the residents of the two cities. That being said, the pilot indicated that the factor that is most closely related to the feeling of safety is the degree to which people are positive about their living environment. The more positive the experience of the living environment is, the more positive the feeling of safety is and vice versa. The degree to which people have confidence that government bodies and companies can prevent an accident from happening also relates to the feeling of safety. The more confidence there is, the greater the feeling of safety and vice versa. The same applies to the degree of confidence that emergency assistance services will be able to mitigate the consequences of an accident with hazardous substances. Finally, people also feel safer if they are confident that they can limit the consequences of a possible accident themselves.