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New research to prevent potential accidents in the chemical industry

Researchers at Leeds Beckett are collaborating with Care Chemicals to reduce the plant’s ‘lost time injury’ rates to zero by looking at the design of work systems as well as safety behaviours and culture in the organisation.

BASF's Ludwigshafen site in Germany

The project is led by Dr Jim Morgan and Dr Matteo Curcuruto from the Psychology Applied to Safety and Health (PASH) research group, with Research Associate Anne Morrice, who graduated with an MSc in Psychology from Leeds Beckett in 2014.

Care Chemicals is a global division of BASF - the world’s largest chemical company, producing chemicals that go into everyday products such as toothpaste, sun cream, sports shoes, cars and TVs. Its global headquarters, based in Ludwigshafen, Germany, is the world’s biggest integrated chemical complex.

With an area of approximately 10km2, the site consists of around 2,000 buildings and a workforce of around 39,000 people. In this complex work environment, BASF takes the safety of everyone on site, and of its neighbours, very seriously, and has a continuous improvement approach.

Jim explained: “Accident and incident rates at BASF Care Chemicals are already low but the division is extremely committed to a proactive approach to safety that recognises all facets of risk - including behavioural influences.

“By collecting psychological and behavioural data from operational employees and their supervisors, we can provide additional intelligence to aid safety management decision-making. If organisational, group or individual behaviour is identified as a risk factor we can also help them design, implement and test targeted and tailored programmes to combat this.”

Anne will initially spend a year at the company’s headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany, carrying out data collection to be able to plan a longer-term, three to four-year project.

Anne said: “‘The scale and complexity of this site is impressive. It combines offices, laboratories and production facilities and involves the interaction of people, machinery and organisational systems. Such complex industries as chemicals production are associated with many challenges and safety has the highest priority. The company is keen to explore how the psychology of safety culture could help to further improve safety outcomes on site, and I’m delighted to be involved in this work. As the first stage of the scoping project, I am really looking forward to understanding how safety is currently managed and promoted here, and how it is integrated into everyone’s thinking and behaviour.”

The project builds on the work of Dr Matteo Curcuruto, PASH Senior Research Fellow, who began collaborating with a division of BASF based in Italy during his PhD studies. Matteo carried out safety culture surveys, safety leadership education training, non-technical skills workshops, and the analysis and redesign of safety systems.

Matteo’s work has now been rolled out in several BASF plants in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, supporting around 2,000 workers. As a result of this, three principle plants have achieved their ‘zero lost time injury’ target, and have maintained this over several years. BASF is now keen to build on this achievement at its headquarters in Germany.

Jim added: “Establishing a long-term collaborative relationship with a global BASF division represents a hugely exciting milestone for the PASH research group. It is testament to the success of our previous projects that we have attracted interest from multinational companies such as BASF.

“Our approach - combining aspects of organisational psychology, occupational health psychology, and human factors, as well as our ability to access broader expertise from across the university - offers companies the opportunity to integrate behaviour-based diagnostic and intervention development tools into their existing safety management systems. This allows them to further enhance their proactive efforts to reduce potential accident risk."

Image: copyright BASF SE

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