Safety first logistics

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One of five Potter Group facilities in the UK, the Droitwich, Worcester distribution centre has specialised in dealing with hazardous goods for nearly 20 years. Located on a secure, 38-acre rural complex with 30,000sq m of shared-user warehousing, the centre currently handles a wide range of flammable, volatile and temperature-sensitive materials such as paint, agricultural chemicals, chlorine and even schedule 2 and 3 drugs.

Specialised facilities in Droitwich include bunded (sealed) and temperature-controlled warehousing, protected and enclosed zones for flammable products, and temperature-controlled areas. Services include break bulk, order picking, packaging and re-packaging, and ISO container discharging and packing, supported by the latest IT and software systems.

The group’s own vehicle fleet operates locally and nationally, carrying out multi-drop and time-sensitive deliveries. For exporters the centre provides export planning, documentation and freight forwarding services for dangerous goods in line with ADR, IATA and IMDG requirements.

Over the past few years various industry standards and new legislation have come into force designed to protect employees, visitors, clients, the public and the environment from the risks posed by hazardous materials. They are also designed to ensure that every item due for despatch is correctly identified, suitably packaged and labelled, so that the recipient can be confident of receiving the correct materials and quantities. The implications of using the wrong chemical in a subsequent process or treatment can be dire.

Currently the business is governed and regulated by no less than seven different national and EC regulations and standards, whose requirements are reflected in the group’s own internal disciplines and procedures. These bodies carry out on-site audits at various intervals to monitor and check that our staff are continuing to observe all the necessary precautions and procedures. Backing their visits, the company’s insurers carry out a detailed review of all procedures each year when premiums are being reviewed.

Droitwich must ensure it adheres to:

lThe Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH) 1999, to maintain its status as a Top Tier COMAH site. Current proposals driven by the EC’s Seveso II directive are expected to extend the rules covering materials such as potentially carcinogenic substances and tighten up the rules covering a range of certain classes of chemicals and explosives.

lThe British Agricultural Standards Inspection Scheme, is a self regulatory process that sets standards for storing pesticides and fertilisers.

lThe Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations implement HSE directives dealing with flammable and explosive risks in the workplace.

The Medicines Control Agency (MCA) oversees the procedures required for the storage and control of pharmaceutical products, while Home Office Approval is required for handling schedule 2 and 3 drugs such as Phenobarbital, Codeine or Amphetamine.

ISO 9001/2000 and ISO 14001 address quality systems and environmental procedures respectively.

Hazard protection

Alongside these national and international standards, the Droitwich centre’s management regularly consults with the local Police and Fire Brigade, County and Local Councils and interested environmental groups.

So what does this mean in practice? The ‘4P’ plan (Property, Plant, People, Procedures) helps us to identify and monitor all the vital aspects to ensure a safe, secure working environment.

Hazard protection starts with the site itself – the building, services and facilities. The site is in a rural area with no other buildings close by. A 2m high perimeter fence, full CCTV coverage, 24-hour on-site supervision and an external security company protect the site against unwanted intruders and ensure that no-one can enter by chance.

All vehicles entering the site are checked through a weighbridge, booked into the system and the information is cross-checked to make sure they are entitled to be on site.

The company has recently invested in a new environmentally-friendly BioDisc waste water disposal system and petrol interceptors, both designed to ensure that no pollutants can enter a water course. In addition on site oil tanks are bunded and all site drains can be sealed off in an emergency.

Inside the 30,000sq m of warehousing there are several specialised storage zones including temperature-controlled areas for products such as flammable liquid class C which must be stored above 20°C to prevent the inhibitors separating, five different areas which maintain strict temperatures from -8°C to +6°C, and enclosed zones for other flammable substances. Walkways, zone entries and hazards are clearly marked to ensure staff and visitors do not expose themselves to unnecessary risks.

AFFF flammable liquid sprinklers and alarmed smoke detectors have been installed throughout the centre to manage potential fires as soon as they occur. The Potter Group staff test the system weekly to meet ISO procedures, and a number of major clients carry out monthly audits.

Virtually every aspect of what may seem standard equipment must be reviewed in the light of possible hazards. All fork trucks and other handling equipment in designated zones have been modified to Zone 2 standards. Specialised fire extinguishers for use on class A and B fires such as those involving fuel oils, mineral spirits and other hydrocarbons are installed at strategic locations.

To cope with any spillage and leakage, every warehouse zone has containment materials, sand bags and other equipment to minimise the effect of any incident, as well as personal protection equipment to protect staff.

Staff training

With such a plethora of standards and requirements, the quality of staff employed, training and experience are even more important to ensure that the correct disciplines and procedures are strictly maintained.

Clients provide basic training to all The Potter Group staff to understand the properties of the substances involved and how to handle an emergency. As most products fall into broad chemical groups, the knowledge can be applied to other similar products.

Everyone is trained in the company’s systems, checks and disciplines, and will be fully aware of the implications of any error. The company aims at a zero error rate, and client feedback and independent monitoring show that staff achieve almost 100% performance.

Everyone is fully trained in the procedures governing every stage from goods reception to despatch and final delivery. Each stock item carries a unique reference number with relevant names, addresses, specifications and quantities, to provide complete track and trace facilities throughout the process.

From order creation through to despatch, every item is checked no less than five times by different staff, reducing the chances of error to almost zero.

As every zone has its own incident management kit including personal protection equipment, all staff are fully trained in what to do in the case of an incident and what remedial action they can take. The Droitwich team has been handling and repackaging chlorine products used for cleaning swimming pools for more than a decade without incident, but staff regularly practice the correct procedures in the case of spillage. Likewise Akzo Nobel Automotive Plastic Coatings UK has a paint mixing plant on the premises which involves the use of flammable solvents. Both Akzo Nobel’s own staff who are based in Droitwich and in-house staff need to be trained and equipped to deal with such volatile chemicals.

The same degree of training in both the use of equipment and administration is given to The Potter Group’s own drivers and to staff from known, established outside transport companies who may handle deliveries. Both The Potter Group’s and contractors’ vehicles carry clear identification labels on all products and are equipped with extinguishers, personal protection equipment and spillage kits.

The local population and environment receives continuous attention as the company is anxious to be seen as a good neighbour, and it’s part of The Potter Group’s ethos to favour environmentally-friendly activities. Priorities start with the residents, and Droitwich managers have drawn up an Offsite Emergency Plan with the help of the local Police, Fire Brigade and local authorities. Regular reviews and visits in particular by the Fire Brigade ensure that in the case of an emergency they are thoroughly familiar with the site and its contents.

Environmental protection is directed at the local flora and fauna, and in particular the local population of bats, badgers and a nearby colony of rare butterfly.

Such a demanding and complex task takes considerable investment, equipment and management resource, blended with decades of experience. So it is not surprising that companies handling hazardous products and materials are increasingly interested in outsourcing their supply chain management to specialist organisations. From an initial contract three years ago, Akzo Nobel has extended its presence on the Droitwich site and has committed to a long-term agreement based on the outstanding accuracy and performance of the Droitwich team.

With further legislation in the pipeline and rising insurance premiums for high risk storage, this trend is likely to accelerate and The Potter Group will continue stay at the forefront of the industry, ready for any further developments.” n

Steve McCarthy is manager of The Potter Group’s specialist distribution centre in Droitwich. Tel: 01299 851441.The Potter Group is one of several third-party logistics providers exhibiting at Logistics Link 2005, being held on February 1 and 2 and Sandown Park, Esher, Surrey. For further information contact Richard Milbourn on 020 8661 1160 or visit

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