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Companies have been working hard to maintain sound operational environmental risk management in facilities that have been idle during the restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As sections of the global economy reopen after what has been a prolonged period of lockdown, a great deal of attention is – naturally – being given to the safety and wellbeing of humans. Companies have been putting in place measures to ensure safe social distancing, for example, to make sure that colleagues are as protected as possible from the threat of COVID-19.

In addition to these considerations, the environmental risks associated with restarting facilities that may have been partially or totally idle must also be top of mind.

While facilities typically have automated protection systems in place, emergency situations that pose an environmental risk often still require a human response.

Many companies are, in fact, well used to starting up facilities after shutdowns as this is something they do frequently as part of the regular maintenance checks they must carry out. And if they have been carrying out sound risk management during the lockdown period, the threat of potentially damaging chemical leaks or escapes of gas, for example, should be greatly minimised.

While facilities typically have automated protection systems in place, emergency situations that pose an environmental risk often still require a human response. Many clients have maintained a core staff during the shutdown period and made sure that that team – both in and offsite – is well-briefed on the appropriate response to an environmental breach.

During shutdown periods, risk professionals should consider maintaining control programs including weekly inspections of equipment and loss prevention tours. Even when plants are shut down, it is advisable that environmental and fire protections equipment such as pipelines, tanks, leak detection systems and fire pumps and sprinkler systems, be tested, inspected and maintained with these tests being carried out by a pre-trained core team, and properly documented.

Security measures are also of huge importance to reduce the risk of unauthorised access and vandalism which could result in environmental breaches. Trained security personnel can play a key role here in ensuring plants are kept safe.

A continuous supply of utilities such as electricity, natural gas and water is also needed so that key equipment such as monitoring systems for leakages or temperature control remain operational.

During periods of shutdown, it is important to monitor external risks, such as flood or extreme weather, too. Staff should be prepared for a major event to be able to minimise any environmental impact.

Now that some lockdown restrictions are being eased and some plants becoming operational again, clients are putting into place their restart plans, which ideally should include proper procedures for restarting machinery and equipment. It is important that facilities do not take short-cuts to speed-up the restart process; this is where accidents can occur.

And once facilities are up and running again, we encourage clients to undertake a “post crisis” review, to take heed of lessons learned and be prepared for any future enforced shutdown.

  • About The Author
  • Risk Consulting Manager, Environmental risks
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Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. AXA XL Risk. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any publication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with this publication, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

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