17 years ago, ISOPA created the One Step Ahead programme in order to promote the safe handling of chemicals by all members of the value chain in Africa and the Middle East. Since then, much progress has been accomplished. Much more still needs to be done though and this is why ISOPA seizes all opportunities to be proactive.

Today, Els Van Eetvelde, Chair of ISOPA’s One Step Ahead group takes us on a journey to the past and shares her vision for the Programme’s future.

What was the thinking behind launching the “One Step Ahead” program?

 Product stewardship is of vital importance for ISOPA. By elevating safety standards in the industry, we can ensure the highest quality of polyurethane products throughout the value chain while reducing the potential impact on human health and the environment.

The polyurethane market has become global, thus, product stewardship practices cannot be limited to Europe. For example, the manufacturing of polyurethane products has been a dynamic sector of the African and Middle East economies, generating wealth and employment. It was therefore a logic step for ISOPA to develop a dedicated Product Stewardship program for these two regions.

One Step Ahead was launched in 1998 to increase the safety awareness and standards for the use of di-isocyanates in Africa and Middle East. The first workshop in Kenya was so successful that many others followed. Nowadays, workshops are planned on regular basis and the information shared with the audience is adapted to local needs.

What are the main learnings for ISOPA?

Feedback provided by participants to the One Step Ahead workshops over the past two years, has shown that on average 65% of participants know ISOPA and its activities before they join the event. A few lessons could be drawn from that:

  • Product Stewardship initiatives are beneficial for ISOPA’s global reputation.
  • Nonetheless, untapped opportunities remain and ISOPA should maintain its energy and continue to organise workshops to increase awareness on the safe use of diisocyanates.

As for ISOPA member companies it is important to acknowledge that:

  • Resources and energy invested in the “One Step Ahead” program have created impact for all members of the value chain.
  • Further support is essential to bring the Product Stewardship message to go from “gold” to “platinum”.

By aiming high, without compromises, ISOPA can make the difference and ensure that the building blocks of polyurethane are handled in the safest way.

Have workshops evolved since the program started? Which countries are you planning to focus on in 2016 and ahead?

The workshops’ agenda has evolved over the years to increase dialogue during the presentations in order to allow for more interaction. It is now made easier for everyone to learn from each other’s experiences.

In addition, the slide packs used during the workshops undergo a continuous process of improvement. The core messages on the safe transport, storage and use of diisocyanates and polyols have been consistent over the years. However, specific questions raised during the workshops and feedback received from participants have led to important fine-tuning.

A good example of improvement would be the introduction of an Arabic version of the “One Step Ahead” documents, in addition to the English and French versions. This allows polyurethane operators in Middle East and North Africa to receive the training in their mother tongue.

Looking to the future, the workgroup members have identified 5 sub-regions of interest. More specifically, two sub-regions were selected in the beginning of each year by all ISOPA member companies. The next training will take place in Accra, Ghana with more to come. Stay tuned!

Should you have questions on the “One Step Ahead” Programme, don’t hesitate to email us and engage with us on Twitter.