This past November, Cefic staged a one-day European SQAS User Seminar at Brussels' Sodehotel la Woluwe, affording delegates from across the chemical supply chain a chance to exchange experiences of the SQAS system and its functionalities
CONFERENCE REPORT This past November, Cefic staged a one-day European SQAS User Seminar at Brussels' Sodehotel la Woluwe, affording delegates from across the chemical supply chain a chance to exchange experiences of the SQAS system and its functionalities
More than 10 years ago, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) established its Safety and Quality Assessment System (SQAS) to provide shippers with an objective way of assessing the abilities of a particular logistics service provider (LSP) to help them achieve their Responsible Care commitments while their products are in the transport chain. Since then, the System has been expanded to cover all elements of the supply chain and has been adapted to meet the needs of its users – which now include larger LSPs using it to assess subcontractors - and to take advantage of new technologies.
It seemed high time for Cefic to gather both shippers and LSPs together to talk about how SQAS is being used and where the potential lies for further improvement. That was the idea behind the User Seminar that the Council organised this past November. After a welcoming speech by Dr Hans-Günter Müller, chairman of Cefic's SQAS service group executive committee, the seminar kicked off with a presentation by Jos Verlinden, Cefic's transport and logistics director. Citing transport as an area where chemical companies are particularly vulnerable to risk and thus negative public exposure given that this off-site activity, very often outsourced to third parties, exposes the shipper to numerous unpredictable external factors, ranging from changeable traffic conditions to attempted theft and other security issues, he asserted that SQAS not only promotes heightened safety and environmental standards and the spread of industry best practices but can also help foster sustainable and competitive logistics within Europe.
When applied to logistics, product stewardship, in other words the responsible management of the health, safety and environmental aspects of a chemical product throughout its lifecycle, becomes logistics stewardship, Jos continued. This is something in which all parties in the logistics chain have an important role to play. Consequently, it is essential that each party within the chain has a suitable and effective HSE risk management system in place. In this regard, SQAS, he continued, offers industry an invaluable means of checking that each player operates to the highest HSE standards. Quoting the maxim of a former colleague, he concluded with the words, "In God you trust, but all the rest you audit".
Next up was Cefic's SQAS manager Danny De Cock, who explained that SQAS had been designed from the outset to evaluate the quality, health and safety, security and environmental performance of LSPs and chemical distributors in a uniform manner via a single and standardised method of assessment. It is not, though, as sometimes erroneously labelled, a certification system, having no 'pass or fail' element. Rather, the SQAS Assessment Report on a service provider is devised to provide objective answers to around 500 relevant HSE questions. Moreover, each company looking to find a suitable potential partner can hone their search through the use of individual 'templates' that specifically weight those questions that most reflect their own particular concerns and requirements.
SQAS, Danny continued, is a cost-effective means of driving continuous improvement in terms of safety and quality standards by means of a single objective evaluation that frees companies from having to execute their own individual assessments while simultaneously reducing the amount of auditing a service provider needs to undergo to demonstrate their strengths and capabilities. He then pinpointed the main pillars of the SQAS system as being a common questionnaire developed by industry itself and agreed upon by the applicable logistics sector (SQAS is not, as often misconstrued, solely concerned with bulk transport); the use of fully accredited independent assessors, who themselves first need to be a dangerous goods safety advisor (DGSA) prior to receiving further Cefic training and certification; and an electronic database of Assessment Reports that resultantly provides uniform accessibility and transparency.
There is, however, always room for improvement. At the last SQAS Seminar in November 2005, for example, the need for a more intense dialogue with the assessed companies in the supply chain was identified by industry, as was a feeling that there was at the time too much associated paperwork. Since then, Danny stated, the Logistics & Distributors User Group has led to ever more transparency, something that has also been accompanied by the implementation of fully automated administration via the electronic handling of assessment authorisation and attestation.
While SQAS Database use has increased over recent years, Danny nonetheless urged chemical and logistics companies alike to employ the database and its features more intensively. He also noted that the analysis of the scoring data (averages across reports) could also be more greatly exploited, with this data also available to sector associations as a means of monitoring trends and identifying areas requiring further improvement. Likewise, the Improvement Action Programme facility, he said, could also be used more effectively to support dialogue between chemical companies and their service providers.
Günter Stalla, BASF's senior manager of global procurement and logistics, then gave an overview of how his company has integrated SQAS within its procurement and purchasing process across all its sites and group companies within Europe. Indeed, the company stipulates that all contracted transport service providers must be SQAS assessed, with all new service providers required to undergo SQAS assessment within six months. All assessments are then individually evaluated by BASF, with the ensuing results and subsequent service provider meetings forming a crucial component of the company's overall service provider evaluation system.
BASF then conducts a series of around 25 to 30 structured Service Provider review meetings throughout the year, examining the contracted firm's SQAS performance in order to identify areas of in need of subsequent improvement, with Priority 1 questions (around 50 in total) needing to be addressed within a period of one month and priority 2 questions (approximately 100) within three. Service providers must then issue improvement action statements and act upon them. This approach to service provider evaluation, he revealed, not only a plays a vital role in the awarding of business to potential partners but also results in clear benefits in terms of improved business relationships through enhanced transparency; the identification of areas in need of improvement; and greater dialogue in terms of advancing best practices.
InterBulk Group uses the SQAS Database as a means of ensuring consistent SHEQ standards across the intermodal supply chain, explained company CEO Koert van Wissen, with transfer points requiring particular consideration. Echoing previous speakers, he praised the SQAS Database as a useful means of facilitating continuous safety and quality improvement, as it enables InterBulk to readily identify partners that best meet the standards required. Moreover, the use of InterBulk's own overlay matrix means that it is readily able to monitor a service provider's performance in terms of those areas it considers most important. However, while he noted that questions in the 'new' SQAS are now clearer, he nonetheless stated that chemical companies could still make more use of SQAS as a measurement tool.
Benedikt Heuberger, group quality manager for fellow intermodal specialist Bertschi, revealed that his company has something of a belt and braces approach to evaluating suitable logistics partners, be they road transport hauliers, tank cleaning stations or rail operators, using the SQAS Database and a Bertschi-specific template in conjunction with the company's own internal evaluation process. Noting that while SQAS reports are generally available for many medium-sized and larger international service providers, the same is not always true with smaller firms as such players at present still tend not to be SQAS assessed. Consequently, where no SQAS report is available, Bertschi will issue a potential service provider with an internally devised questionnaire that in addition to its own questions incorporates numerous SQAS questions, including the full SQAS subcontracting section. Identifying SQAS assessment as a worthwhile tool in the selection of service providers, Heuberger advocated its wider adoption by industry across Europe, arguing that the greater use of the SQAS system would lead to all-round improvements in quality, safety and efficiency while also reducing what he termed 'audit tourism'.
After Martin Whittle, general manager of the Chemical Distribution Institute (CDI) Foundation, explained that SQAS can interface with CDI's Marine Packed Cargo (CDI-mpc) initiative to ensure subcontractors comply with the standards of the contractor while minimising the amount of auditing required, Danny De Cock returned to the podium to give an update on SQAS functionalities and features. Reporting that there have been no significant changes to the SQAS Transport Service module, which, designed to cover all types of logistics service providers not otherwise covered by specific SQAS or CDI-mpc modules, is proving to work "smoothly", he did state that where necessary "we will add specific paragraphs under section 10 to cover missing specific requirements, for example for air transport, rail car owners, etc".
With regard to the SQAS Tank Cleaning module, however, a new questionnaire has now been launched and posted on the www.sqas.org website. While a number of translations are still in progress, English, German, French, Dutch and Spanish versions are now available, as is a list of accredited assessors. Likewise, a new questionnaire is now accessible online for the SQAS Packaged Warehouse module. While this is currently only available in Spanish and English, other languages are set to follow, Danny explained, noting that this particular module differs slightly from the others in that infrastructure data is collected by the assessed company in a self-assessment format.
Regarding the SQAS Rail (Carrier) module, Danny stressed that the criterion is 'traction' and thus it should only be used by companies that operate owned or leased locomotives. For other companies dealing with rail logistics, viz intermodal, rail forwarding, rail terminals and rail tank car (RTC) owners, etc, the SQAS Transport Service module should be used. At the same time, the SQAS RTC Workshop is applicable for third-party rail tank car maintenance, with workshops owned or operated by carriers covered briefly in SQAS Rail module.
Danny then cited the main changes to the SQAS Rail module as being a switch from Excel spreadsheets to an automated electronic database, with access to reports available to the Logistics & Distributors User Group. Relating good progress on the implementation of the SQAS Distributor/ESAD module, he nonetheless noted the need for further attention by chemical producer principals. At present, there are two areas of change under consideration, he continued: the division of Sections F&G for "office only" distributors and for other logistics companies, such as warehouse, cleaning and transport operators; and the need to develop a number of extra questions in terms of chlorinated solvents with regard to monitoring the use of trichloroethylene in metal cleaning.
New features in the SQAS system as a whole, he added, include the implementation of automated pre-notification and electronic authorisation by assessed companies for the Transport Service, Tank Cleaning, Packaged Warehouse and Distributor/ESAD modules; fully automated SQAS Attestation; and fully automated SQAS logo authorisation. There have also been a number of new developments regarding queries across reports in that they are now limited to users of the Service Group, the Logistics & Distributor User Group and partner associations. Furthermore, averages are now only extracted or shown if the population is greater than four, while an average score per country, aggregate per section or for an individual question is now available to benchmark a particular assessment versus the total and to analyse strengths and weaknesses of the industry sector so as to define areas in need of attention. As well as this, average scores per country for a selection of questions using a template mechanism are now possible as a means of analysing progress on selected items over time. Danny also drew delegates' attention to the Transperanto toolbox feature (available for free at www.transperanto.org) that sees key safety-related words and phrases translated into 26 European languages to promote effective communication between operatives of loading/unloading sites and non-indigenous truck drivers.
SQAS goes global
With global chemical producers increasingly desiring a common risk management system for their logistics partners around the world, there are growing demands for an SQAS equivalent in countries and regions where no alternative assessment systems have yet been established. Consequently, Danny explained, Cefic's SQAS Service Group can provide a licensed copy of the European system to other chemical associations outside the continent, although it prefers to do this under the umbrella of the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA). Indeed, he continued, ICCA is currently gearing up to issue best practice guidelines with criteria and general principles for a global SQAS equivalent to achieve this end. Based on these forthcoming ICCA guidelines, each interested country or region will then be able to develop its own local assessment system under the aegis of the local chemical industry association. In terms of the global spread of SQAS, the first SQAS Transport Service equivalent scheme has now been established in China, with the system, under the management of the local Association of International Chemical Manufacturers (AICM), having gone live this past November.
Closer to home, Danny continued, there are also plans afoot to re-define the geographical scope of the European SQAS system, expanding its reach to include non-EU countries covered by the same legislative framework of ADR and RID and which feature regular road/intermodal cross-border traffic, with Russia and Turkey being of particular note. Indeed, during the coming months Cefic hopes to initiate an SQAS awareness programme in the Russian Federation in conjunction with various local chemical, transport and certification bodies. Bringing the seminar to a close, Dr Hans-Günter Müller urged delegates to think of ways by which ever greater SQAS adoption can be achieved, particularly among smaller firms. He also called for delegates to help raise industry awareness of the SQAS system, asserting that the question is no longer whether or not SQAS is a useful tool for improving safety and quality but how it can now be taken forward.
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