RECENT incidents involving chemicals have thrust the subject of “responsible care” in the chemical industry into the public domain.
It has also brought more public attention to and scrutiny of the chemical industry on how it should operate and whether enough is being done to protect the safety and health of its workers, the public and the environment.
In this regard, the Chemical Industries Council of Malaysia (CICM) should be congratulated for organising its annual CICM Responsible Care Awards (RCA) to recognise companies and/or individuals that have contributed to achieving HSE (health, safety and environment) excellence in the industry. The CICM has organised the RCA for 15 years.
The Malaysian chemical industry is a major contributor to manufactured exports, at 6.9% in 2018. It comprises diverse subsectors, ie, petrochemicals, oleochemicals, basic industrial chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides, organic chemicals and industrial gases, as well as chemical traders, distributors and service providers.
More than 90% of the companies in the industry are SMEs (small and medium enterprises); the rest are multinational corporations and large local companies.
The industry plays a vital role as a supplier of raw materials and contributes to the manufacturing of finished goods (such as electrical and electronics, plastic products, building materials, pharmaceuticals, etc) and other economic sectors such as agriculture and construction.
The chemical industry has been regarded as a priority sector by the Malaysian government, as demonstrated by initiatives carried out under the 11th Malaysia Plan 2016-2020, the Malaysia Productivity Blueprint (with the establishment of a Chemical Productivity Nexus) and various other government policies and incentives.
Approved investments in the chemical industry and chemical products, as well as petroleum products, including petrochemicals, amounted to RM20.8bil and RM37.9bil in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
While chemicals are important in our daily lives, their safe and responsible use and their handling, including their final disposal, are important and if carried out correctly, it will go a long way towards ensuring a safer and cleaner environment for the public as well as employees to work and live in.
Malaysia is rapidly becoming a developed nation but, unfortunately, the increase in industrial and agricultural activities has contributed to environmental problems, especially pollution due to hazardous chemicals and heavy metals.
The forming of the Toxic Waste Management and Scheduled Waste National Committee is timely and must be supported by all parties as it could help tackle issues of indiscriminate disposal of hazardous waste in the country.
I believe that the committee is the highest platform that can make decisions on how to better manage toxic waste so that the Sungai Kim Kim, Johor, incident and others will not recur.
Apart from the Department of Environment and other relevant agencies, the committee should also include experts from institutions of higher learning and other parties such as the CICM.
It is necessary for us to spare a little time to step aside and ask what we need to do to deal with the multiple environmental threats that all life on earth is facing.
There is a need to reflect on the fact that human beings have destroyed a lot of the diversity of nature which is so urgently needed for the stability of the Earth for the coming generations.
Sadly, reflection seems to be a rare activity these days.
Humanity has reached the strange position where, although people from all corners of the earth are crying out to protect the environment, it is impossible to achieve it if the root of the problem has not been addressed.
As trustee of our planet’s resources and geo-biological diversity, we must undertake to use our natural resources in a manner that ensures conservation.
As trustees, we are compelled to temper our actions with moderation and balance.
We live in a world where we need all the skills and knowledge we can muster to meet the challenge of leaving our planet with a safe and beautiful environment for our future generations.
The Sungai Kim Kim and other similar tragedies have proven to us that if we are not going to make peace with our environment, the destruction will be all the greater in the future.
The good thing is, the advent of a “green corporate culture” is making businesses more conscious of environmental issues.
Companies must realise there is more to gain by preserving the environment in the long term than ruining it in the short term.
Can something be done to address the problem of environmental degradation? Can we have a new paradigm of development that makes peace with Mother Earth?
Chemical companies, being key actors in the whole chemical value chain, must self-regulate and play their role in ensuring the safety of workplaces, the health of employees and the surrounding public.
I understand that globally, there is a Responsible Care initiative put forward by the chemical industry, which was adopted by Malaysia in 1994 and led by CICM as its sole custodian.
Under this initiative, chemical companies pledge their commitment to guiding principles and implement codes of management practices that go beyond legislative and regulatory compliance. Responsible Care is an ethic and commitment that builds confidence and trust in the global chemical industry.
I wish to applaud CICM’s effort in making the chemical industry a safer one. Such initiatives augur well for the export image of the country.
A good safety track record will not only ensure licensees can continue to operate but will also contribute to the productivity of businesses, thus making the Malaysian chemical industry a more responsible and sustainable one.
Multinational corporations in Malaysia and large local companies should lead the way and lend support to SMEs so that they too can achieve HSE performance at a higher level.
Over the years, CICM has played a significant liaison role between industry players and various government ministries and agencies, including MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) through engagement sessions and other platforms to resolve industry issues.
Such continued engagement and cooperation by the industry is essential as it is an important partner in uplifting the Malaysian economy.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health