September 22, 2008

Learning From Experiences

By Stone, Gretchen Mae

Safety culture has become increasingly important for the chemical industry since John Bresland, chairman and CEO of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, started his career in 1966.

"I think companies are doing it on their own. It requires leadership at the ton. safety culture starts at the top and not at the bottom," said Bresland, who will address the Chemical Industry Council Aug. 28 at the 2008 West Virginia Chamber of Commerce's Business Summit. Much of his talk will focus on safety lessons learned in the industry.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigates accidents nationwide, and then shares lessons and makes recommendations to industry as a result of investigations. Bresland also will talk about the Chemical Safety Board and his goals for the next five years as chairman.

The industry focuses heavily on safety and "we start every Chemical Industry Council meeting with a safety message," said Karen Price, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, which oversees the Chemical Industry Council. The association provides advocacy work and access to experts in areas such as environmental protection, workers' compensation, taxes and safety.

"Over the years that I've been working with it, there's been a much, much greater, improved emphasis on safety and we've seen it even in the six years I've been with the board," Bresland said.

Price said the chemical industry is important to the state and always has been. In 2006, more than 10,000 people were employed by the industry in the state, with average wages of $45,000 to $50,000 a year, she said.

And the industry continues to see growth in the state, she said. For example, Kureha, a chemical manufacturer based in Japan, will finish its plant on the DuPont Belle site in early 2010 and will bring 50 jobs to the state at the polymer, polyglycolic acid plant. Initial uses for PGA include its use in redesign of soda and beer bottles, which could reduce their production costs and add to environmental conservation, according to a company press release.

Bresland said the board regularly provides presentations to industry groups, trade organizations, emergency response organizations and government agencies.

"We do that all around the country," he said. In a week's time he had three scheduled, in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

The chemical industry is dedicated, Price said, to preventing accidents. When chemical accidents happen, Bresland and board members investigate and make recommendations to try to prevent future problems. Recommendations don't have to be implemented, but the board follows up with the company and has had a good success rate, he said. Most issues, he said, are pretty common sense and companies are generally very cooperative.

"One of the incidents is one in West Virginia, an accident at the Little General Store in Ghent," he said. Propane vapors from a storage tank ignited and exploded there, killing four people and seriously injuring five. The building was destroyed. Bresland said he will discuss issues around propane storage tanks that created a problem there and emergency response. The final investigation results will be available at the end of September, when the board will hold a public meeting at Tamarack in Beckley.

"But we also have other significant investigations going on in other parts of the country," he said. Included in these was the Imperial Sugar Company refinery explosion, near Savannah, Ga., that killed 13 employees. He'll discuss combustible dust explosions, which led to the sugar company disaster, and how to prevent them.

Bresland worked in the chemical industry for 35 years, beginning in the Moundsville area in 1966. He was appointed chairman and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board in March 2008, and will serve for five years, which will finish out his term there. Bresland served as a CSB board member from August 2002 until August 2007. The board is comprised of five members, with one member acting as chairman.

Bresland moved up and down the East Coast working in chemicals. Before joining the board, he was president of Environmental and Safety Risk Assessment LLC, a chemical process safety consulting company based in Morristown, N.J. Until August 2000, he was director of Environmental Risk Management for Honeywell International Inc., in Morristown, N.J. While there, he was responsible for the company's compliance with EPA's Risk Management Program regulation at 20 facilities in the United States. From 1966 to 2000 he worked for Honeywell in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Jersey.

"I spent half my career running chemical plants, and the other half was spent doing health and safety work," he said.

In 2006, Bresland was appointed to be a member of the Department of Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee. He is also a member of the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Technical Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Standards Committee. He has served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council and as chairman of the Federation of State Chemical Associations.

Bresland graduated in chemistry from Londonderry Technical College, in Northern Ireland and from Salford University, in England. He is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Chemical Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Bresland and his wife Beth reside in Shepherdstown.

Copyright State Journal Corporation Aug 22, 2008

(c) 2008 State Journal, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.