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Safety and Health
ALTANA acts according to the “safety first” principle and relies on an effective safety culture. Technical and organizational measures as well as our training programs contribute to enhancing work safety and anchoring the issue firmly in our employees’ minds. In 2022, too, protecting the health of all our employees in the face of the coronavirus pandemic was the focus of our activities.
Occupational safety and occupational health protection have top priority at ALTANA. In 2022, we again succeeded in keeping the number of occupational accidents reported at our sites at a low level.
The year was marked by major challenges. Above all, the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the war against Ukraine, and the energy crisis led to stress and uncertainty among our employees. These are probably some of the reasons why there was an increase in behavioral accidents, particularly at our German and European sites. These were mainly non-chemical accidents resulting in low levels of absenteeism. In terms of WAI 1, the number of reported occupational accidents with lost work time of one day or more per million working hours, ELANTAS was again able to post a significant reduction, while BYK, ECKART, and ACTEGA saw an increase compared to the previous year. Some production sites are particularly distinguished by their occupational safety: ACTEGA Foshan, BYK and ELANTAS in Tongling, ECKART Zhuhai, and ELANTAS Beck India in Pune have been accident-free for at least ten years. The following sites have gone more than five years without an accident: ELANTAS in Zhuhai (six years) and ACTEGA do Brasil in Santana de Parnaíba (five years). Another eight sites have been accident-free for at least three years.
Further facts and figures can be found in the Group Management Report starting on page 68 f.
Measures Taken in Connection with the Coronavirus Pandemic
In coping with the coronavirus pandemic, we consistently adhered to the safety measures introduced in 2020 and adapted them to the respective situation. As a result, the virus was not able to spread more widely at any of our sites in the reporting year. Apart from the self-discipline of the employees, the safety culture firmly anchored at ALTANA was a contributing factor. The crisis teams at the company, divisional, and Group levels created a clear decision-making and communication structure. In addition, all relevant information, regulations, and recommendations for dealing with the coronavirus were available centrally on ALTANA’s Intranet.
Depending on the respective site and legal requirements, specific measures were implemented at the individual sites. For example, not only strict hygiene and distance rules but also the increased use of mobile work reduced the risk of infections being brought into the respective site from outside. Mobile work not only protected people who were able to work at home, but above all protected employees who continued to work at the respective site due to their job profile. Vaccination campaigns were offered by companies in various regions. Apart from the German sites, ELANTAS and ACTEGA in Brazil and BYK and ELANTAS in India should be mentioned here. In both countries, the coronavirus pandemic spread rapidly at times and the sites adopted effective measures to protect employees and their families. Travel was gradually resumed where possible, but remains at a significantly lower level than before the coronavirus pandemic. Work meetings were held primarily in virtual space, but with a trend toward hybrid events. Appropriate hygiene concepts were developed for large internal and external events. Depending on the situation, some events were postponed, canceled, or digitally broadcast as a precaution.
Ergonomics make an important contribution to occupational health and safety. Appropriately designed workplaces and activities boost the productivity of the workforce and reduce absences due to illness. At some sites, filling processes for reactors and aggregates were redesigned in such a way that, in addition to greater automation, ergonomic aspects were also brought to the fore.
For example, ECKART uses a new conveyor system at its Painesville site in the United States, which eliminates the need for manual filling with drums. At the Vétroz site in Switzerland, too, the feeding of raw materials and precursors to the powder plants has been optimized by a new pneumatic conveyor system. As a result, the containers with the raw material or precursor only have to be positioned at a height of approximately 50 cm instead of the 2.50 m previously required. ACTEGA is pursuing a similar concept at the Vigo site in Spain, where solids such as carbon black, and liquid raw materials such as latex emulsions, are now automatically metered. All of these measures reduce physical stress and improve employee protection against unintentional exposure to the substances used.
ALTANA again invested in lifting aids in the year under review. BYK introduced appropriate lifting aids at the site in Shanghai in China. Consequently, activities that previously required several people can now be carried out alone. The other divisions also introduced suitable lifting aids. The range extends from small containers in the under 50 kg range to the handling of drums.
Structural changes also contribute to ergonomics. For example, ECKART in Painesville leveled the production floors so that they are now flush with the recessed scales, eliminating offset edges and making it easier to move containers. This is a simple yet effective example that can be implemented directly in the planning of new plants and buildings.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting continued increase in mobile work, in 2021 BYK had already begun offering all employees at the Wesel, Schkopau, Kempen, and Moosburg sites online courses for physical and mental relaxation. Active breaks have been proven to improve concentration and performance. The courses were so successful that they are now offered throughout Germany and are available to all companies.
Reducing Exposure and Avoiding Risks
As described in the “Products” chapter, ALTANA replaces critical substances with non-critical ones whenever possible. If this is not feasible, we do everything in our power to minimize the respective exposure risk.
An effective method is to use closed systems. This is understood as systems in which an unwanted exchange of substances with the environment is excluded, but an exchange of energy (for example heat) is possible between the system and the environment. In this case, as far as possible, all filling operations and reactions are designed to prevent exposure. ELANTAS, for example, introduced six airtight mixing units at its Zhuhai site in China, where the filling is carried out by means of pumps. ECKART adheres to a similar principle at its Schererville site in the United States.
Optical methods are also increasingly being used for analytical purposes. At various sites in the U.S. and Germany, BYK uses near-infrared probes that enable measurements to be carried out directly, for example in reactors, without having to take a sample. These are referred to as non-invasive test methods. This trend is also being tested or implemented in the other divisions. Compared with wet-chemical methods, exposure, the risk of accidents, and waste are avoided.
Safety in Chemical Processes
In the year under review, safety assessments of facilities and processes were carried out at the sites using a risk-based approach to make operations safer and better.
In addition to avoiding exposure of people and the environment, process safety is also a focus during filling operations. When solids are added, for example, a concerted effort is made to ensure that this is done as far as possible in closed systems with an appropriate inert gas atmosphere. The individual companies have developed different safety concepts for this purpose and invested in appropriate equipment that takes into account the differentiated flow behavior and requirement profile of various solids.
Another example of measures implemented as a result of a safety assessment is the handling of heavy loads. At its Collecchio site in Italy, ELANTAS improved the forklifts used in the warehouse to enhance safety. By attaching two vertical metal struts to the frame of the driver’s cab, any containers that might fall can be stopped. Forklifts at other sites are now also to be retrofitted accordingly.
Incidents in Detail
Based on the guidance for reporting on globally harmonized process safety key figures in accordance with the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and the definition provided by the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI), there were 30 significant incidents in the year under review. Twenty-nine incidents involved the release of chemicals, and one incident involved a fire. In one of the cases, there was a minor spill of a chemical with soil contamination, and in another there was a moderate spill into a stream. The contaminated soil and water were removed and disposed of properly. People were injured in four incidents, with a maximum lost work time of four days.