Pave Forward with AC Safety
BY Pavel Kriz
The saying “safety first” carries weight in the asphalt business, and best practices in safety are universal in the industry. However, industry professionals should never settle for standard. There is always room to raise the bar and pursue a more holistic, informed approach to asphalt safety.
Wholesalers should know about current safety trends and how the industry is progressing in response to those trends, including advancements in science and technology as well as education and training.
Moreover, it is equally important to look at today’s safety and risk management protocols with a more critical eye to determine where the industry can adapt further. This balanced approach to improving safety against current and future needs defines the industry-wide push towards a higher standard of health and safety across every level of the business.
Seek Safety in the Details
For those in the asphalt industry, the attitude around safety is that you should never be satisfied. The ongoing push for smarter, more advanced safety solutions comes down to the details. Now more than ever, leading organizations like the Asphalt Institute are calling on industry leaders to identify areas where there is room for improvement, rather than focus on what has worked well in the past.1
This trend towards more forward-looking solutions in asphalt safety has placed more responsibility on asphalt manufacturers and providers to “up their game” in operational integrity.
Meeting industry specifications is a requirement of any asphalt provider, but safety concerns reach deeper than the standards set for asphalt product performance. Safety concerns should not be oversimplified given that operational environments are never entirely risk-free—even the most up- to-date safety and risk-management protocols have gaps to fill. At refineries, for instance, it is crucial to have a very prescriptive, organized system in place for evaluating and documenting operational data for risk-analysis.
For wholesalers, this detail-oriented approach should indicate the level of a provider’s accountability, which speaks volumes about their integrity as a partner to customers as well as their dedication to achieve shared success for the industry.
Seek Safety in the Science
Today, industry leaders need to get safety concerns down to a science if they are going to develop the solutions needed for now and in the future.
Exposure to a naturally-occurring gas, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), continues to be a top concern in the liquid asphalt industry and efforts to mitigate the risks associated with it are industry-wide. Specifically, the goal is to protect personnel involved in the storage, handling and transportation of asphalt.2
Sharing information with nearby communities on how the industry controls this occupational exposure is an important educational step to prevent misconceptions. The industry has done great work thus far to determine the various sources and health ramifications of H2S, and studies continue to evolve as experts dig deeper into the complexities of human biology and the varied responses to things like chemical exposure. In particular, focusing on the chemistry of how a H2S molecule forms within asphalt has resulted in a more informed approach to determining necessary mitigation steps and other best practices.
Chemistry is also important when it comes to additives in asphalt products. While there is a general understanding of the factors involved in the additives process—such as time, temperature and treat rates—companies need to understand more about how these factors actually interact with one another and evolve over time. As a result, a rigorous technical approach is becoming even more critical to ensure the additives process is properly controlled and evaluated, which in turn will lead to better practices in safety and risk management.
Finally, working alongside industry and health organizations is critical to advancing industry research in safety. For example, ExxonMobil has provided expert representation for reviews conducted by the International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC) around occupational exposure to bitumen and bitumen emissions.
IARC completed its monograph in 2011 and published its findings in 2013, essentially classifying bitumen (asphalt) paving fume to be about as carcinogenic as your cell phone.
In addition, ExxonMobil holds leadership positions at the Asphalt Institute, Asphalt Institute Foundation and Eurobitume, the European Association of Bitumen Producers, and regularly contributes to the development of industry research, including the Strategic Asphalt Research (STAR) Symposium Report released by the Asphalt Institute Foundation. These organizations continue to develop educational materials around H2S mitigation and treatment for burns to set higher standards for handling procedures.
For example, the Safe Delivery of Bitumen Guides have set an industry benchmark for bitumen handling procedures.
Working together enables industry leaders to join minds and resources to take on a shared mission and raise the bar in safety and health across the industry.
Technology and Education Go Hand-in-Hand
In the digital age, the roles of technology and education go hand-in-hand and are equally vital in minimizing safety risks in the liquid asphalt industry. Advancements in technology are moving the needle on the serious issues of burns and H2S exposure, but it remains critical that all industry members continue learning about the areas for improvement and apply the right tools to educate all personnel involved in the production and use of asphalt.
When it comes to H2S exposure, the latest technology to arrive in the field includes air monitoring systems that are able to measure gas levels in the air. Picking up H2S gas in the air may sound simple; however, these machines are complex and involve equal parts technology and science to accurately measure exact exposure. As a result, there is still much to learn in order to develop and progress a multi-disciplined technology approach that can hit all elements needed from an H2S measuring system.
Burns from hot asphalt products is another key area of concern and one of the most frequent issues faced by workers, particularly for workers and tanker-truck drivers in asphalt terminals, storage facilities and hot-mix plants. Typically, burns result from failing to follow best practices and safety protocol when loading and transporting hot asphalt at the terminal, and when pumping hot asphalt into tanks at the hot-mix plant. Even as these environments benefit from the ease and accuracy of modern technologies, safety risks are tied to human error and we are all susceptible to it.
Organizations need to be proactive about updating training and educational programs to stay current, and should make an extra effort to keep teams refreshed on basic safety tips and their importance.
Share Goals for a Safe Future
Upholding a strong commitment to safety is not a one-man job, nor is the responsibility concentrated within certain asphalt industry groups. Ultimately, safety must be an industry-wide priority, with each and every members of the asphalt supply chain sharing responsibility.
The industry has made significant progress in understanding and addressing asphalt safety needs, but there is still work to do. It is important to engage in technical advocacy and shared education across the industry to address safety challenges on the horizon. Lending expertise and valuable knowledge in science and technology will help promote continued learning and growth, allowing the industry to surge ahead and continue striving for even better safety solutions in the future.
Pavel Kriz, PhD, P.E., serves as an ExxonMobil asphalt technical team leader in the Americas. He has 20 years of asphalt technology experience.
1 The Asphalt Institute. Strategic Asphalt Research (STAR) Symposium Report 2017. Retrieved from: Strategic Asphalt Research (STAR) Symposium Report
2 Davis, John. Asphalt safety focus on handling. Published in Asphalt Magazine.