America’s industrial infrastructure is substantially more susceptible to catastrophic failure than those in other industrialized countries, according to reports posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In certain key sectors, such as petrochemicals, aging U.S. refineries are become more dangerous with each passing month.
The combined losses from the fires, explosions and spills regularly plaguing U.S. chemical plants takes a proportionately greater toll than in the rest of the world. For example, the reinsurance giant, Swiss Re, concludes that the sum of all reinsurance losses (the “loss burden”) in refining, petrochemical processing and gas processing industry in the U.S. is approximately three times that of the comparably sized sector in the European Union (EU), with the rest of the world similar to the EU cluster.
Beyond economic losses, the toll on American workers is also higher. A study entitled “Occupational Fatality Risks in the United States and the United Kingdom” published earlier this year in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found the fatality rate of U.S. workers approximately three times that of workers in the U.K. American worker deaths from chemical exposure were more than 10 times higher than their U.K. counterparts; death by fire nearly 5 times and by explosion nearly 4 times as likely.
• View Swiss Re loss burden assessments
• Look at U.S./U.K. workplace death comparisons
• Read October 2013 Refinery Action Collaborative Memo
• Examine stagnation of industrial safety measures in U.S.
• See stalemate on Chevron Richmond refinery disaster
Occupational fatality risks in the United States and the United Kingdom
Source: John Mendeloff and Laura Staetsky, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Vol 57 Issue 1, January 2014
From the abstract:
• Background – There are very few careful studies of differences in occupational fatality rates across countries, much less studies that try to account for those differences.
• Methods – We compare the rate of work injury fatalities (excluding deaths due to highway motor vehicle crashes and those due to violence) identified by the US Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in recent years with the number reported to the Health and Safety Executive in the United Kingdom (UK) and by other European Union (EU) members through Eurostat.
• Results – In 2010, the fatality rate in the UK was about 1/3 the rate in the US. In construction the rate was about ¼ the US rate, a difference that had grown substantially since the 1990s. Several other EU members had rates almost as low as the UK rate. Across EU countries, lower rates were associated with high-level management attention to safety issues and to in-house preparation of “risk assessments.”
• Conclusions – Although work fatality rates have declined in the US, fatality rates are much lower and have declined faster in recent years in the UK. Efforts to find out the reasons for the much better UK outcomes could be productive.