For many, the start of a new year offers the opportunity to reflect on the year prior and move on with great gusto into the next. After the year that was 2020, a widespread desire to put that period behind us existed long before it was over.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the original epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, the recovery has been on far longer than any other corners of the world – and with a few exceptions, is largely regarded as having been more successful too. So how does the Asia Industrial Gases Association (AIGA) look back on the last two years, and what challenges loom large on its horizon?

Milan Sakar

Source: AIGA

Milan Sakar, AIGA

Covid-19 was naturally at the forefront of our year-ending members newsletter for December 2020, with AIGA Board President (for 2018-2021) François Abrial thanking “all the members companies of AIGA and various National Associations of the gases industry in Asia for effectively playing their role round-the-clock during the extended period of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to meet the higher demands of medical oxygen from hospitals and Covid-19 care centres.” 

John Panikar, who assumed the role of AIGA President in early Nov 2021 (for the 2021-2023 period), also echoed the previous AIGA sentiment in paying due deference to the ‘Covid warriors’ in the region, adding, “Please join me in appreciating the effort by Covid-19 warriors from the industrial gases industry who continue to play an exemplary role in spite of adversities faced – frequent lockdowns, protecting employees from infections while delivering medical oxygen in high-risk areas, disinfecting the cylinders, driving the delivery trucks, working for long hours, and meeting increased demands for medical oxygen.”

The pandemic provided not just difficult new learnings but opportunities to engage with industry and society like never before – and that’s really important when trying to communicate an issue as important as safety. AIGA and its members not only care for safety of their staff and customers but also for the common public and society in general.

Accidents involving third party two-wheeler/motorcycle riders is a problem in most countries in Asia due to various socio-economic reasons. AIGA, in collaboration with the affiliated national gas associations, has undertaken several programmes in last 8-12 months that could help in creating awareness about two-wheeler safety among drivers and also the vulnerable road users in society. The pandemic presented something of a stumbling block in how this mission was pursued, but nonetheless inspired reimagined means in ensuring it is upheld – and also led to those new opportunities in connecting with society. We have seen this continue throughout 2021.

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Beyond borders

The objectives for AIGA continue to be a many-splintered thing. Not only is the association planning to stay focused on its role in the continuing pandemic, our outreach into ‘new’ markets and geographies has also been a goal for 2021 and beyond.

Tackling and imparting the safety implications associated with the clean energies transition will also continue to be a key task ahead in the region for AIGA. Communication is key in the mission of safety, and particularly so in a region as culturally diverse as the Asia-Pacific.

Asia is a region of opportunity but also has its share of challenges. Asia is a very diverse continent both culturally and economically. This itself is big challenge to have uniform safety regulations and implementation of global best practices. But AIGA is working with the support of national gas associations in each country to overcome this challenge.

Maintaining consistent communications with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can present a challenge, as they are not our members and there can also be a perception that multinational companies seek to raise safety standards only to increase the costs of operation for SMEs. AIGA continually strives to dispel these beliefs and develop a uniform and strong safety culture. We must be realistic – more rigorous safety standards won’t be implemented overnight. But we can achieve a lot through continuous improvement, by involving all the relevant stakeholders.

AIGA aims to do exactly that by continuing to go beyond borders in its presence and invaluable efforts. While we plan to keep our focus on the various safety and supply requirements with medical gases, AIGA plans to sustain its focus on disseminating the global best practices and harmonised standards for the gases industry related to safety, health and the environment in Asia.

Our region is diverse, with many languages and regulations in the countries that it serves. However, with support from national associations, AIGA is able to make its work noted by safety regulators and authorities in most of the countries in Asia. Enhancing safety in operations of ASUs, process safety and product transportation continued to remain a focus area, but safety and associated regulations with HyCO and hydrogen mobility/clean energy are also new areas being explored by AIGA since 2020-2021 and will continue to do so beyond, as some of the countries in Asia have ambitious plans to move forward with clean and green energy in the sphere of hydrogen. As the lead association, AIGA understands the role that it needs to play in this important and fast-moving area.

We look forward to what 2022 has to bring, and look forward to working with you all in the name of safety, harmonisation and progress!