Special Edition BASF information
BASF information is the newspaper for BASF employees at the Ludwigshafen site. After the accident at the North Harbor on October 17, 2016, a special edition was published, which was also published on the Internet. The online version of this special edition was updated at regular intervals.
A tragic accident occurred at our site in Ludwigshafen on October 17. Two BASF firefighters and a barge crewman from an external company were killed; many other colleagues were injured. We are still deeply shocked and saddened by the fact that such an accident could happen.
Over the past few days, we have dedicated all our efforts to stabilizing the situation. I continue to face thoughts and feelings that I am sure many of you share: Deep sorrow and mourning for those who lost their lives. Heartfelt sympathy and condolences for their families and relatives. Wishes for a speedy recovery to all those injured in the accident, and hope and compassion that we send out to their families.
We feel tremendous gratitude for the emergency personnel and responders who risked their lives to protect and rescue. We are also very thankful for the solidarity and support we have received from customers, businesses, municipal politicians and partners. Our deep appreciation also goes to the crisis response team, which has worked around the clock to analyze and assess developments and make the right decisions with prudence and professionalism – coordinated with the appropriate authorities and municipalities. On behalf of all my fellow Executive Board Members, I thank all of you for your support. The accident raises many questions, and we still do not have answers to all of them. How could this happen? Did we make any mistakes? What do we learn from this? I understand when you ask: Why is everything taking so long? This is more than dissatisfying – for all of us; it truly puts our patience to the test. But we must proceed with caution and due care. It is vital that we stick to the facts and avoid speculation. We will not make premature statements before we have absolute certainty.
I assure you that we are working tirelessly and with great dedication to find out exactly what happened. We owe this to the grieving families, relatives, comrades and friends, the public and ourselves. I can also assure you that we will immediately inform you of any new findings, and that we will learn from this accident. Our neighbors are also posing questions to us; they have expectations, worries and concerns, and they expect answers. They trust that we will do the right thing. We must prove this on a daily basis in order to regain and strengthen that trust. This also requires that we continue to conduct thorough and honest analyses. One thing I can emphasize with absolute certainty: Safety is always the top priority at BASF. We all live by it. Every day. What is also clear after such an accident is that our safety measures are put to the test time and again – and we will continue to invest in safety. I am personally committed to this. Criticism has been voiced regarding some of our communication. Social media reactions and other reports inevitably begin to speculate while we are still working to obtain an overview of the situation, combat the damage and gather facts. This might give the impression that we are a step behind.
This point has also been raised in the feedback we received from you, dear colleagues, and it is a matter that we are certainly taking to heart. We are faced with the challenge of normalizing our daily operations. But the mourning and compassion will accompany us over the coming weeks and months. My thoughts are with those who perished, the injured, their families and their relatives.
Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE
An explosion on Monday of last week claimed the lives of members of the BASF site fire department; several fellow firefighters were severely injured. Their colleagues now have to deal with this difficult situation, while mastering their daily routines at the same time; even at the site of the accident. BASF information spoke to the Head of the Fire Department at BASF, Rolf Haselhorst (GUS/F), about the situation, and what lies ahead for his team and himself.
Mr. Haselhorst, how are your colleagues and you personally dealing with what has happened?
Of course, every person deals with the situation differently. But you have to look at us as one big family. The colleagues spend 24 hours with one another during their shifts; even on Christmas and Easter. Some of them have spent much of their professional and personal lives together. This is a severe loss. And it helps that we spend a lot of time discussing our thoughts and feelings with one another. I am here at 6:30 am every morning and I talk to all colleagues. I thank them that they are here; that they are holding up. I tell them that they should not suppress their grief, but rather accept it.
How is BASF currently supporting the site fire department?
We take extensive advantage of the psychological counseling provided by the human resources department and the medical department. These colleagues are on-site at the two firehouses every day. Many BASF managers came by this Monday to express their condolences. Dr. Kurt Bock spoke with the firefighters and visited the scene of the accident.
My team members also greatly appreciated that Margret Suckale, our Human Resources Leader, directed words of remembrance and consolation to those assembled in front of the Gesellschaftshaus during a moment of silence. Following this, many BASF employees approached the colleagues, shook their hands and thanked them for their excellent work. These are very important and emotional moments.
In fact, many colleagues voluntarily interrupted their holidays to return to the site in order to ensure its safety. We have received offers of assistance from fire departments at other BASF sites and from neighboring fire departments. Colleagues from other sites will be supporting us here in Ludwigshafen. This team spirit does wonders for us.
How are you commemorating the colleagues who lost their lives?
All firefighters on the shift attended the moment of silence together and mourned their colleagues. We will be organizing our own event for all rescue personnel from BASF to deal with our grief together, and we will take part in the memorial services held in the hometowns of those who died. All emergency vehicles at BASF fire departments around the world are donning crapes.
We are also in contact with the families of those injured, who also need our assistance.
Will anything change for future assignments?
We are optimally prepared for our assignments. We practice every day in the plants. Our firefighters have completed supplementary training programs. Of course, everyone is particularly sensitized at the moment. We must first wait for the cause analysis. And I do want to add that I am particularly proud of my team. The team members continued on with their assignment and ensured the safety of all BASF employees with the same level of excellence, even under these very difficult circumstances, in the days that followed the accident.
BASF offers all employees and citizens the opportunity to express condolences and sympathy. As a charitable organization, the BASF Stiftung has set up a fund that will provide financial support to the victims and families in their time of need.
BASF has set up a place of peace and contemplation in front of the Gesellschaftshaus (Casino) on Anilinstraße, Ludwigshafen. A book of condolences is on display there, where everyone can express their sympathies at least until the end of this week. Moreover, there is the option of sending a condolence message via email to email@example.com or as a personal letter to BASF SE, Carl-Bosch-Straße 38, 67056 Ludwigshafen, Germany. As a charitable organization, the BASF Stiftung has set up a fund that will provide financial support to the victims and families in their time of need. It also gives BASF employees the option of expressing their condolences to the victims and their families with a donation. Donations can be made to the BASF Stiftung using the keyword “Wir helfen” (We help). The donations are paid in full to the people affected and their family members.
The bank details are:
IBAN: DE71 5454 0033 02061729 00
Olga Zumstein (GUA/AP) is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist as well as an emergency physician. On the day of the accident, the 47-year-old was on site, and she and her colleagues from the employee support working group took care of the psychological needs of employees and relatives of the victims. BASF information talked to her about her experiences and the special challenges after the events of October 17.
How did you handle the last few days?
I am a doctor and am confronted with injuries and death time and again. But despite that, I have never experienced such an extreme case. I was deeply impressed by the firefighters and by how they looked out for each other while doing their work, how they had each other's backs and paid attention to how the others were doing. They saw how their colleagues were injured or even died and still went back to fighting the fire after short breaks. That is an enormous emotional challenge, and dealing with something like this takes time. And after the initial shock wears off, that is when this incredible pain begins to bloom, the pain of loss. For this reason, I told the fire fighters: You are strong people, but this is not the time to feel ashamed or have false pride. Be like everybody else, be open and let us help you.
Are you only counseling the firefighters?
No. Our psychological counseling is open for everybody: for all employees, all family members of victims and for the employees of contractors. We visit the colleagues in the fire department and at the harbors every day, but we have also been with the families of the victims, with those in the hospital with severe injuries and wherever else our help is needed.
How do you help those who were affected by the accident?
We especially try to not be intrusive, to provide information and make observations. Anxieties and sorrow after such an incident are a normal human reaction. Everybody deals with traumatic experiences differently: One person may internalize them where another will feel the need to talk to someone. This is why there are different approaches to helping people: For some, it may be enough to silently keep them company and maintain eye contact and start a conversation later, whereas others prefer to talk to someone immediately. Here, I feel it is important to understand the fears and worries of the people affected to offer them the help they need. An important part of processing such events is sleeping well, but that is also what is most difficult for many people. For this reason, I suggest breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises and sometimes even sleeping pills. Some people also need the support of specific practices.
How can they be supported even more?
After an event like this, the thoughts, fears, images or smells are very real and often depressing for some. For example, some of the people I am counseling are not able to drink coffee or eat meat since this brings back their memories of the incident. Together, we come up with the smells they associate with positive experiences, to use these fragrances in a targeted way to let them forget the unpleasant smell of the fire.
What can employees do when they notice that a colleague is doing badly?
The most important thing is to address that person, do not be shy about it. Do not act like a doctor and try to diagnose your colleague, but talk to them. Some say, “I don't want to talk, leave me alone!” In this case, show them that you are there for them and give them the time they need to open up to you.
You were there on the day of the accident yourself and have constantly been counseling those who were affected since then. How are you dealing with what you experienced?
I try to sleep enough, to sleep through the night. I concentrate on one task, avoid multitasking and treat myself carefully. But first of all, it helps me that people come to me with worries and leave with hope. That is a happy moment for me.
When Dr. Kurt Bauder (GUA/DN) received a call at the beginning of lunch on October 17, it was immediately clear that it involved a major incident.
After sounding the internal company alarm, the head emergency physician immediately traveled in an ambulance to the accident site, accompanied by two other doctors. Once there, the physicians were met by the fire department and three BASF paramedics who had already brought some of the injured to a place accessible to rescue personnel.
“All of them had very visible burn injuries, some of them very serious,” reported Bauder. Additional emergency doctors and ambulances were requested through the command center, both from BASF and externally, who gradually arrived on the scene. At the same time, emergency medical procedures were being administered: The wounded were being treated and priorities for transportation off site were being established, based on the severity of injury. A strict division of work between team members prevented any loss of time. A dressing station was set up and stocked with adequate supplies. External personnel helped with transporting the victims. On site, the wounded were first administered venous catheters. They were given painkillers and supplied with special blankets to keep warm. Bauder explained that “body cooling is a great danger.” The benefits of the stable network between BASF occupational medicine and emergency physicians in the area, developed through training courses and drills, now demonstrated its value. “We all know each other well, which really facilitated cooperation in this situation.” The burn victims were taken to the BG trauma center in Ludwigshafen, which is specialized in burn injuries, and immediately increased its capacity to handle a maximum number of injured. Some patients were also taken to the University Hospital in Mannheim. Afterwards, Bauder and other rescue personnel stayed on site in case more missing persons were found, and also as backup for the fire brigade. “During our work on site, I was not thinking about how I felt. I had no time for that,” said Bauder. “As things calmed down, I started thinking more: How are the patients doing? Were our own people in danger?” As an emergency physician, the 48-year-old had already handled many difficult assignments before joining BASF in 2010, even as an emergency helicopter doctor. However, the explosion in North Harbor was the biggest challenge he has faced to date. On a positive note, he said that “our emergency medical service did an excellent job. Some colleagues even interrupted their holidays and came to the site to help out.” Bauder is still concerned about the fate of the victims days after the incident. Together with Dr. Tobias Conzelmann (GUA/AS), he visited the severely injured in the BG emergency clinic, conveying best wishes from their colleagues and then reporting to rescue personnel about how the injured are faring and whether they can receive visitors.
Many people have been affected by the accident, such as those helping with the rescue on site. They are enduring an enormous psychological burden, even though it is different from what relatives and family members are experiencing. It is important that no one be left alone. Psychological support for employees and their relatives can help them process what they have experienced.
The employee support working group was created over twenty years ago at the Ludwigshafen site to be on call whenever emotional support was needed. The group includes experts from the Occupational Medicine and Safety department (GUA), social counseling service (BASF Foundation) and other employees from the Human Resources competence center (GP) as well as members of the works council. They have all been specially trained in this capacity. The working group has been tasked to support and help employees who have been affected by damage events, even though they remain physically unharmed. Moreover, the team stays in contact with relatives of injured or deceased colleagues, which they maintain as long and actively as is necessary.
The Persons Affected Set Their Personal Boundaries
The experts were also immediately involved in the accident on October 17. They assisted rescue helpers and employees at the accident site, spoke with relatives or assisted emergency personnel from both fire stations. They were also tasked with informing the families of those killed in the accident of the sad news. “Our goal is to notify the families first and as quickly as possible. However, sometimes that is difficult, as it was in this case. Unfortunately, because of the large-scale fire that continued to rage after dark, it took some time to uncover and identify the deceased at the site of the accident,” said Wolfgang Klump (GPT/DO), coordinator of the working group. “We also look after the relatives of the injured. We accompanied them to the hospitals and informed them of the next steps. All in all, we are simply there if someone needs to talk – the affected persons set their own personal boundaries.” As part of the crisis management team, members of the working group also answered calls on the family telephone hot line on Monday and Tuesday.
BASF has offered various counseling and consultation services since October 17 in order to inform and support relatives, employees and neighboring residents.
Employee and Public Hotlines: An employee and public hotline was established after the tragic accident. Ten colleagues took more than 1,400 calls in shifts until the late afternoon of October 19. The callers mostly asked how to conduct themselves properly. Ever since calls have stopped coming in, BASF provides information on the current state of affairs via recorded message. Anyone who wants to speak to a contact directly can get in touch with the Environmental Monitoring Center at any time by calling 0621/60 40 40.
Family Hotline: The family hotline was active on Monday and Tuesday. Employees with special psychological training took calls, held an initial counseling discussion and offered further support as needed.
Service for Affected Employees: Everyone who still wants to talk about the event can confidentially and personally contact the experts at the Occupational Medicine and Safety department (GUA) and social counseling service (BASF Foundation). The contacts are Olga Zumstein (0621 60-79922) and Dr. Kristin Hupfer (0621 60-42960). The social counseling service (0621 60-45593) can be reached from 8 am to 4:30 pm, Monday to Friday. Affected persons can talk to a site doctor at any time by calling 0621 60-46666 (the clinic).
Here you can obtain answers to frequently asked questions on the crisis communication concerning the major fire.
What procedures are to be followed during a crisis?
There is a clearly defined information chain in case of emergency. If a case of damage occurs, all affected units at the site are informed via a centrally controlled alarm system. Every alarm, even if it turns out to be a false alarm, is taken seriously: A fire brigade, generally comprised of four vehicles, proceeds to the scene with flashing blue lights. In addition, ambulances, environmental monitoring vehicles and site security rush to the scene of the accident. The objective is, for example, to extinguish a fire as quickly and comprehensively as possible. Equally important is to obtain established facts on possible hazards within and outside the site as soon as possible. We immediately inform the respective authorities, specifically the police and fire departments of the cities of Ludwigshafen, Mannheim and Frankenthal as well as the Southern Structure and Licensing Directorate (Struktur- und Genehmigungsdirektion Süd) – as the superordinate state authority of Rhineland-Palatinate. In case of particularly critical situations, the Emergency Response Steering Committee (LAG), the crisis team at BASF, meets at the same time. LAG makes all key decisions – including those concerning crisis communication – in close collaboration with rescue personnel, authorities and government. The corporate communications department is then responsible for informing employees, neighbors and the public. This is done internally, for example, via a message in Online Reporter, an issue of “BASF aktuell” which is available at the gates, or via the “BASF today” ticker which is also shown on various monitors throughout the site. In parallel, a press release is distributed and is intended to serve the media as a basis for their reporting.
How was it possible that external media was able to report on the major fire far quicker than we were?
The top priority is informing the public within and outside the site’s boundaries actively and in a timely manner. The aim is to do this within one hour. But the facts have to be right – and it is unfortunately not always possible to verify them immediately. If emergency services are still ongoing, and the focus is on saving lives, it can take time to clarify all the details. And special care must be taken when, as in this case, injuries and casualties are involved. And the information chain must also be taken into account. Here, once again, the subsequent communication is triggered by the notification sent to the authorities. When a major event such as this one occurs, journalists rush to the scene of the accident and sometimes begin their reporting before established and confirmed facts are available. And of course, there are many private citizens who post photos, videos and their personal observations on social media immediately after the event occurred. And we cannot and will not be part of such activities. But we do take advantage of our channels such as Facebook or Twitter to communicate with our neighbors. In addition, employees and citizens can inform themselves via special public hotlines.
Why has there not been any reporting on the causes of the accident?
Because we cannot issue any statements concerning the causes. BASF works closely with the responsible authorities to determine the causes of the accident. The Frankenthal public prosecutor’s office and the criminal investigation department have begun their investigation. An external expert will be commissioned upon order by the public prosecutor’s office.
The BASF main site is closely connected to the City of Ludwigshafen and the entire metropolitan Rhine-Neckar area. Many residents live in the direct vicinity of BASF and pass through the site's gates as employees every day.
BASF works closely with the cities, fire departments and civil protection – both in cases of emergency and when it comes to informing the population. However, there are different responsibilities on and off the site, including when it comes to suggesting preventive safety measures.
The City is Responsible for Providing Information Off-Site
“Since the tragedy last week, we have received many concerned questions from residents as well as the employees. Many of them were unsettled because they, as both employees and residents, had varying information and were unsure on how to act,” said Anke Schmidt, Head of Communications (ZOA). “On site, BASF provides information on events and potential hazardous situations to its employees via loudspeakers and copies of ‘BASF aktuell’ at the gates as well as via email and on the Intranet. Off-site, however, the city is responsible for providing information. We are in close communication with external authorities, but they make their own decisions on which safety measures they recommend to the public.”
Shortly after the explosion, the residents of the neighboring districts of Ludwigshafen and Mannheim were preventively asked to avoid being outdoors for longer periods of time and keep doors and windows closed via the KATWARN warning system. Employees on site were also informed of what had happened. However, aside from the area surrounding the site of the accident, no preventive measures were called for and the change of shifts took place as usual.
“Immediately after the accident, our environmental monitoring vehicles went out and measured the air and the samples taken from precipitation on ground level and from surfaces on-site and in the surrounding areas.” Higher values of hazardous substances were only measured in the area surrounding the site of the accident. This is why there was no reason to warn employees outside this immediate area from opening windows. Odors could still be perceived in a wider area surrounding the site as there are substances of which low concentrations can already have a perceivable odor without being harmful. Of course, we also immediately made these measured values available to the City of Ludwigshafen,” said Michael Heintz (ESE/MU) of the Environmental Monitoring Center.
Safety Measures Are Gradually Being Reduced
Measurements were also taken in the days after the major fire. Based on the measurements of external authorities and BASF, the cities of Ludwigshafen and Mannheim gradually rolled back their safety instructions. As the Ministry of Environment and the city have confirmed, noticeable measured values of harmful substances were not encountered at any point in time, whether on the day of the accident or the past few days. Locally elevated measurements were only detected in the immediate vicinity of the accident site.
In an interview with BASF information, Margret Suckale, Site Manager and a Member of the Board of Executive Directors, spoke about the work of the Emergency Response Steering Committee (LAG).
Ms. Suckale, the Emergency Response Steering Committee met for up to 16 hours a day and also worked through the weekend. What is your impression of the crisis management at BASF?
Thanks to the tremendous dedication and expertise of our expert teams, and many colleagues at our site, we have achieved much in a very short time. A big ‘Thank you!’ to everyone who dedicated themselves to the challenges at hand and who continue to do so tirelessly. But our work is far from over. Now, we need to focus on helping the people affected by the accident, and we need to limit the damage so that the site is fully operational as soon as possible.
Government officials often visited the crisis team...
...and this was helpful as the responsible political leaders could get a firsthand impression of how we are dealing with the situation. Interior Minister Lewentz and Environment Minister Höfken were both here on Monday of last week. Minister President of Rhineland-Palatinate Malu Dreyer even interrupted her holidays to come here. Opposition leader Julia Klöckner was here, as was our Lord Mayor Eva Lohse. Municipal and state politicians support BASF in good, but also in difficult times.
How do you see the criticism of the company’s communication?
In contrast to external media, we can only publish established facts. The operations command of the professional fire department and the investigation conducted by the public prosecutor’s office means that sovereignty of information is not in our hands. The things that we were able to say, were communicated as quickly as possible. And we will continue to do so. We will also do everything we can to clarify what caused this tragic accident as soon as possible.
How do you respond to the wishes expressed by employees to be informed quicker and more comprehensively?
That primarily refers to the time immediately following the event, and I fully understand their demands. Very important to me is that the employees at the site were not in danger at any time. Nonetheless, we take their concerns seriously and we will improve our respective information processes. Information is one thing, but talking to our colleagues is very dear to me. We are all preoccupied by the tragic event. Speaking to one another helps heal the wounds.
BASF notified all relevant authorities immediately following the explosion. In accordance with the legal requirements, the BASF's fire department was in command of operations and the professional fire department of the City of Ludwigshafen formed a crisis team in the main fire station in Mundenheim. The professional fire departments of Ludwighafen and Mannheim and the site fire department were all involved in extinguishing the fire.
After the fire broke out, air measurements were made at the accident site as well as the vicinity of the site in Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. These measurements did not show any noticeable amounts of harmful substances, which the Ministry of Environment and the City of Ludwigshafen have confirmed. Locally elevated measurements were only detected near the accident site. The measured data from the Speyer, Worms and Frankenthal stations also displayed no abnormalities.
The City of Ludwigshafen initiated and led the press conferences held during the week of the accident. BASF works together with the structural and approval authority (SGD Süd) in Neustadt everyday. Representatives of SGD Süd are authorized to visit the site and inspect the plants at any time, even unannounced. On Monday, the SGD was represented both at the accident site and in the BASF Emergency Response Committee (LAG). The Rhineland-Palatinate Environment Minister, Ulrike Höfken, also attended in order to find out more. The Minister of the Interior, Roger Lewentz, visited the site and then spoke at a press conference. On Tuesday, Minister President of Rhineland-Palatinate Malu Dreyer visited the crisis team of the professional fire department. She also visited the command center of the BASF site fire department, together with the Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors, Dr. Kurt Bock and Member of the Board of Executive Directors, Margret Suckale.
After the explosion, the public prosecutor’s office closed off the area around the accident site up to Gate 15. This area can no longer be entered without their permission. When the fire was extinguished and there was no more danger, the public prosecutor's office and the police started their investigation. Their main focus is currently on preserving any evidence and gaining insight into the events. It is at the sole discretion of the public prosecutor’s office to decide when any investigation results will be announced. In the meantime, there is a lot of speculation, especially on social media. BASF will not participate in this activity.
BASF information spoke to Sinischa Horvat, Chairman of the BASF SE Works Council, regarding his experiences and the Works Council's activities after the tragic accident.
Mr. Horvat, how do you perceive the current mood of the staff?
I feel that this tragic event has brought the employees at the site closer together. These days, many of us are pushing our personal limits. This is particularly true for the emergency personnel, but also for the colleagues from the various working groups and the Emergency Response Steering Committee (LAG). Our employees have questions that need answering.
What is your job as a member of the LAG?
I focus on the issue of care and support for the affected relatives and employees as well as on providing detailed information to the staff.
What kind of work does the Works Council do in a crisis situation such as this?
We have met several times since the events on Monday. We talk to the representatives to get a feel for the staff's concerns, and we are focusing on helping people come to terms with the tragedy. In the working groups, we discuss which lessons this teaches us for the future, in order to protect the staff even better.
Even outside the site premises, people feel connected to BASF. Residents and local politicians have voiced their opinions and show their sympathy.
The explosion at the North Harbor is a major blow to the Ludwigshafen site.
The site workforce is mourning the lost lives and grieves for the many injured colleagues. Large parts of the site's production plants have been affected. This is due to the fact that the raw materials supply and the entire site's logistics were severely impaired for an indefinite period by the loss of the supply routes in the area of the explosion.
Many colleagues are working around the clock to manage the Verbund so that the maximum number of plants can be safely supplied and start production again. The first step was to bring the steam cracker back online. The Steam Cracker II has been producing ethylene again since Friday of last week. Steam Cracker I will also resume operations shortly. The petroleum (naphtha) required for operation of the steam cracker will now be delivered through the Mannheim oil port on the Friesenheimer Island and then supplied directly to the site via the culvert. The North Harbor will not be available for an extended period due to damages caused by the explosion. Safety measures are still in effect for the entire area around the accident site.
What does this mean for logistics at the site?
Some materials will have to be supplied by trucks and railway, which entails a tremendous amount of effort. Verbund means proceeding in a coordinated manner and taking the big picture into account. Colleagues already proved that they are up to this task during the 2008 financial crisis. Participants in a Verbund coordination group discuss the next steps and the priorities on a daily basis. In addition to the supply and distribution of material flows, the entire factory logistics has to be completely redesigned. Road and truck transport as well as rail and tank cars now play a more important role in the supply of materials. The main truck entrance, Gate 15, is currently not operable. Instead, Gate 12 has been blocked for passenger car traffic and is now available for truck entry only. It is no wonder that in recent days, colleagues have been working around the clock to handle and eliminate truck back-ups at the site. Moreover, intense efforts are underway to reopen the intermodel transport terminal. Internal handling and coordination is one issue. BASF customers expect reliable delivery. They will be immediately notified when delivery cannot be guaranteed and force majeure has been declared (see info box). Currently, 23 plants are still not in operation and 45 plants are not operating at full capacity (as of October 24). “As soon as the accident site has been released, we will do everything to make damaged pipes operational again as fast as possible. A team of employees is already preparing the repair work. Despite the required haste, safety is the highest priority,” says Dr. Jürgen Nahstoll (ESI), responsible for the site's infrastructure.
More than four weeks after the explosion, BASF technical and safety experts are continuing to work with the authorities on securing and draining the pipelines at the accident site at the North Harbor. The aim of this work is to support the public prosecutor in his investigations and to rebuild the infrastructure at the accident site. The site fire department is also heavily involved, even though returning to the site where they lost three colleagues is not easy.
“We are working flat out to secure the damage site, so that evidence can be gathered at the site safely,” said Siegfried Fiedler (GUS/FO), Head of Onsite Emergency Response Operations (TEL). Currently working at the South fire station on planning and coordinating the safety measures, TEL is made up of BASF experts from the Plant Safety, Engineering and Technical Plant Inspection units and representatives of the production plants and site fire department. In this role, TEL acts as a link with the Southern Structure and Licensing Directorate (Struktur- und Genehmigungsdirektion Süd), which is responsible for approval and with which all safety concepts created by BASF are closely coordinated.
As well as police representatives, around twenty other BASF experts from the Pipe Racks, Port & Tank Farm and BASF Fire Department units are working on site in the piping area to secure, drain and flush pipelines for liquid gas and liquids. Later on, the work will also include safe dismantling of the pipelines that run through the accident site and measures to rebuild the piping network and get the North Harbor up and running again.
According to Fiedler, the fact that all activities are being conducted by BASF experts has been agreed with the investigating authorities, and the work is running smoothly and with great accommodation on both sides.
Five men from the site fire department are on site at all times during the securing and draining work to support the specialist units and plants in matters relating to fire prevention and respiratory and body protection.
No easy task – especially for those whose colleagues were affected by the explosion. “Needless to say, it was up to every individual whether he wanted to work at the accident site,” said Rolf Haselhorst (GUS/F), Head of the BASF fire department. “Everybody deals with grief in different ways, and we have to be understanding of that. We are encouraging all colleagues to get the help they need – be it from BASF’s own psychological advisors or by talking to their comrades,” said Haselhorst.
Extra measurement technology is being used at the accident site to make his team’s work at the North Harbor easier.
“The condolences expressed by BASF also did us good,” said Haselhorst. “From the quick support from colleagues in the site fire departments in Antwerp, Münster and Schwarzheide to the personal thanks given by BASF employees at the memorial events – my team and I have been very touched.”
An employee event on the accident at the North Harbor was held at the Feierabendhaus on October 26. Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors Dr. Kurt Bock, Member of the Board of Executive Directors Margret Suckale, Site Director Dr. Uwe Liebelt (ES), Dr. Beate Ehle, Head of the Environment, Health & Safety division (GU), Head of the site fire department, Rolf Haselhorst (GUS/F), and other members of the Emergency Response Steering Committee (LAG) were there to talk to employees and answer their questions. Here, BASF information summarizes some of the questions and answers.
A large number of customers and business partners worldwide have contacted BASF to express their sympathies following the explosion on the October 17. As well as messages of condolences, many also spontaneously offered their help and support. This included international companies, which are normally in competition with BASF.
BASF information has selected a few to show:
Several weeks after the explosion on the North Harbor, the consequences on site are still noticeable. It will take months before the North Harbor is fully operational again. During that time, colleagues in production, logistics and marketing must find solutions outside the usual procedures.
Even when both steam crackers in Ludwigshafen operate again, it does not mean that they and the downstream plants will be able to operate as normal again. Various plants are still currently out of operation; several are functioning on partial load. Some materials, such as the partially missing propylene, cannot be replaced at the moment. This also has consequences on subsequent products, such as the acrylic acid value chain. The factory logistics must also be rescheduled, above all the delivery of raw materials as well as the loading and unloading. Nevertheless, the railway is fully available, and the location’s important intermodal transport terminal resumed operations on the October 31. The truck traffic is running again as normal between Gate 15 and Gate 11.
Many colleagues are currently working on developing concepts and temporary solutions so that the plants at the site are supplied reliably and the Verbund is stable. There is a lot to consider in doing so: Which plant most urgently needs raw materials? Which has reserves? How long can existing stocks last? Do the planned plant shutdowns fit into the concept? Which transport routes and transport auxiliaries are suitable for the raw material supply, which would normally go through the North Harbor? These are the kind of questions still being discussed by the regularly convening Verbund coordinating group. “We consider the entire site, starting with the supply chains to production stages all the way to the relationships between the operations. We discuss everything before making a decision. A lot of our experienced colleagues are helping us with this” says Dr. Ferdinand Lippert, Head of Basic Petrochemicals Europe (E-CPB) and spokesperson of the Verbund coordinating group.
The logistics team are particularly in demand. Around 40 percent of the total transport volume at the location is handled via inland vessels. On average, seven ships docked in the North Harbor a day – which is equivalent to around half the total ship cargo. That will have to be compensated. The Port of Ludwigshafen, the oil port on the Friesenheimer Insel and the tank farm are fully functional.
The bulk of the raw material supply to the site will now be transported by rail and using the port on the Friesenheimer Insel – a logistical challenge. For this, twice as many ships as before and many additional trains each week containing the most important raw materials such as naphtha, methanol, benzene and toluene must be emptied. After unloading on Friesenheimer Insel, the raw materials will be transported to Ludwigshafen via the pipelines under the Rhine through a culvert. On the Ludwigshafen side, it is already planned to put one of the open risers undamaged in the accident back into operation with certain products in the North Harbor in the coming months. However, raw materials and products that cannot currently be transported by ship are being preferentially transported by rail. This applies in particular to supplying the entire site with gases and other important raw materials. “Everything is precisely planned in terms of logistics and perfectly coordinated so that the remaining capacities will be fully utilized by ship, rail, intermodal transport and truck after the accident. Our goal is that our customers and the site are supplied as effectively as possible,” explains Dr. Andreas Backhaus, Head of internal logistics (ESL).
On the November 3, a large part of the North Harbor was released by the public prosecutor’s office. Securing work is ongoing, amongst other things the product-carrying piping close to the site of the accident will be emptied. “Where safety is concerned, even before the accident we were doing a good job. But we set ourselves the goal to keep improving back in spring and to become the model example in the BASF Group. The accident serves as an additional impetus to carry this out as quickly as possible. We owe this to the victims, their relatives and to ourselves”, affirmed Site Director Dr. Uwe Liebelt (ES).
Since 1987, human biomonitoring has been taking place at BASF. Experts from the Occupational Medicine and Safety department (GUA) are measuring hazardous substances, specifically their decomposition products, in the employee’s urine or blood in order to recognize and evaluate their impact.
This was exactly what happened after the disaster at the North Harbor. The results are now available. BASF information spoke with Prof. Dr. Michael Bader (GUA/BC), Head of the Human Biomonitoring Laboratory at BASF, About the purpose of human biomonitoring, the results after the accident and about how to evaluate these results.
How does human biomonitoring work at BASF?
In our company, human biomonitoring takes place within the scope of normal occupational medical prevention during plant shutdown or after missions of the rescue personnel when it is possible that employees have been exposed to hazardous substances. For many years now we have maintained a close cooperation with the site fire department. Since 2015, human biomonitoring has been available after each mission with potential exposure to products. Because if we know whether there was contamination and how much there was, we can draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the protective measures. What is important: The urine sample must be handed in immediately after a shift or after a mission because many of the hazardous substances in the body are quickly broken down and excreted. Human biomonitoring is always voluntary and is subject to medical confidentiality.
What happens if an employee has an increased level of dangerous substances in his or her body?
For every dangerous substance, we have a so-called action threshold. This is usually a derived, toxicological threshold defined by the Federal Ministry of Labor. It applies to the daily handling of hazardous substances in the workplace. If the measured concentration is above the action threshold, we try to identify together with the employee what the cause could be. For example, whether the protective measures in the workplace are adequate and implemented correctly.
We report our findings in a summarized and anonymous form to the companies so that, where necessary, improvements can be made.
But what does an “increased level” mean for the employee and his or her health?
The action thresholds are sufficiently low that even a single, visible increase is not an immediate cause for concern. It is a significantly greater health risk, however, when heightened exposure to the hazardous substances occurs daily over an extended period of time. To prevent this, occupational medicine is using human biomonitoring. In this way, contamination with hazardous substances is detected early on.
What did we find out from the samples gathered after the disaster in the North Harbor?
Up to now, we have examined around 100 urine samples for pyrene, benzene and toluene or specifically their decomposition products (see graphic). In the case of our firefighters, 6 of the 49 samples were over the action threshold for benzene. In the case of a further six firefighters and one person from “Group 2”, the level was above the half-way limit to the action threshold for benzene. The results for pyrene and toluene were in the normal range for all the people involved in the examination, with the only exception being a slight increase in the level of pyrene for one of the firefighters.
What do the results reveal?
We are currently working on a detailed analysis. What we can say at this present time is the following: Overall, the contamination with hazardous substances of the people at the site of the accident was slight. The action threshold is increased only for those few employees who were directly and for a long period of time at the source of the fire during the mission. The inconspicuous results for pyrene would appear to suggest that the exposure to soot particles by the emergency personnel was low. During human biomonitoring after fires with strong soot build up, significantly increased concentrations of pyrene are normally found. Ultimately, our data attests to the evidence of the environmental measures and the observations on site. This leads us to the conclusion that there was no increased health risk from hazardous substances for the employees on site and for the residents.