New Zealand transport technology company Road Science has been recognised for its innovative work in eliminating health hazards in roading products at the prestigious 2019 New Zealand Workplace Health & Safety Awards.
Organised by Safeguard magazine and supported by WorkSafe New Zealand, the awards recognise successful health and safety initiatives in New Zealand-based companies, with finalists across 14 categories that included Air New Zealand, Lion Breweries and Vodafone.
Road Science won the WorkSafe New Zealand ‘Best initiative to address a work-related health risk’ award, for their innovative work in eliminating the risk of hydrogen sulphide being emitted when manufacturing and storing bituminous products.
Road Science General Manager Murray Robertson says the recognition reflects the dedication and hard work of Nik Vishwanath, Darcy Rogers and the wider Road Science business.
“We challenged the team to not just mitigate the risk, but instead remove it completely, and it was really pleasing to see the teams work collaboratively to achieve a superb outcome.”
While H2S is a hazardous gas that naturally forms in crude oil and bitumen, it can occur in potentially fatal concentrations when mixed with other chemicals to develop Polymer Modified Bitumen roading products.
Process Engineer Nik Vishwanath says to improve the stability and performance of a PMB product, sulphur is often added to create a cross link.
“This is a bond between the different polymer chains and the bitumen, ensuring the two entities work to hold the road together, therefore improving the product’s lifespan and eliminating the need for frequent road repairs.”
While adding sulphur is common practice in creating PMB products, a by-product of this is an increase in H2S. As such, Road Science sought to improve the health and safety of their work place through reviewing their current control processes for H2S.
Through conversations with their suppliers and research in their laboratory, the Road Science team developed a chemical substance, called a ‘scavenger’, which would react with the H2S and turn it into an inert, non-hazardous compound – in this case, zinc salt.
“After lab tests and small scale trials showed positive results, we created a system which added the scavenger to our current PMB products,” says Nik.
“We then measured the H2S levels in our tank vents and the manholes of our trailers, where the concentrations had been the highest. Within half an hour, the H2S levels were down to zero.
“It's a great outcome – we had sought to reduce the H2S to safer levels, but this was eliminating it completely.”
Following the project’s success, a full scavenger addition system has been built at Road Science’s Lyttelton manufacturing plant, and is currently operational.
Now standard practice, it is due to be rolled out at the Mount Maunganui manufacturing site in coming months.
Nik says it's hugely rewarding to be part of an initiative that didn’t just reduce a significant work place risk but eliminated it completely.
“It was great to get recognition for this project through the WorkSafe awards, especially as there were so many people involved in all stages of the process, including our laboratories, manufacturing plant and engineers.”
Other finalists in the category include George Weston Foods, one of New Zealand's largest food manufacturers who work with brands such as TipTop and Big Ben pies, and Constellation Brands, beer, wine and spirits distributors and producers for products including Kim Crawford wines and Corona.