Industrial gas associations pride themselves on representing our industry, but a perceived strict membership criteria has led some companies to consider that this is not possible. gasworld investigates brewing discontent...

Under the auspices of the International Oxygen Manufacturers Association (IOMA) and the International Harmonisation Council (IHC), there are 43 major regional and national gas associations.

These associations work to promote primarily health, safety and environmental care across the industrial gases industry by supporting best practice, improving technical standards and providing a forum for gas companies and associations to meet, discuss and learn.

Phil Brickell, the new General Secretary of the European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA), told gasworld, “At EIGA we want to promote best practices and the highest standards of health and safety; to do that we provide authorities and a wide range of working bodies with expert advice in areas of production, distribution, transport, storage and applications of industrial gases, as well as food and medical gases.”

“The key issue is ensuring consistency in applying those safety, health, environmental and technical standards across the industry, and part of our role is making sure everyone in the industry is aware of them and has the support to enforce them.”

“We also promote the views of the industry around such issues to the appropriate regulatory bodies, to help in the formulation of policy and regulations.”

Membership criteria
It’s this last comment which has caused controversy in recent years; gas associations claim to promote the views of ‘the industry’ but some have come under criticism for not allowing the likes of equipment manufacturers to become full members, and not giving the smaller companies enough of a voice, which some would suggest makes it impossible to give an accurate representation of the entire industry.

Jan Van Houwenhove, of VRV Group, the Italian based manufacturer of cryogenic equipment, told gasworld, “I think we (and the cryogenic equipment manufacturers) are missing an opportunity; the equipment manufacturers are still very much a part of the industrial gas industry because we are providing companies with very important equipment that they need. We can learn from the associations with regards to applicable standards and procedures.”

“When it comes down to safety and good practice, the manufacturers definitely have added value to the operations that they are executing. Within our organisations we have people who are actually working on how to make cryogenic equipment safer and better to use, and that is a thing of importance for a gas association.”

In the majority of cases, such as with EIGA, equipment manufacturers cannot be members of any description. In some cases, such as with the All India Industrial Manufacturers Association (AIIGMA), they can be associate members, but they have no voting rights as full members do.

They are occasionally invited to give presentations at the gas associations’ workshops and symposia, which are open to non members, but still they have no apparent say in any decisions made, standards implemented, or regulations suggested.

Frank Finger, former General Secretary of EIGA, defended the association’s decision to disallow full membership to OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), he said, “The Compressed Gas Association (CGA) in America has a membership which consists of both gas companies and equipment manufacturers. Therefore to take a decision of the membership group is much more difficult, because in many cases the equipment manufacturers have very different opinions.”

“We have strictly gas producing companies as members, no one else – it makes it much quicker and easier to come to a solution, and their different focus cannot disturb our clear focus.”

LOW Wing Keong, Secretary General for AIGA (Asian Industrial Gases Association), spoke on behalf of his association claiming, “The organisation was formed with the primary purpose of focusing on gas producers, it is not designed to cater for the equipment manufacturers, as doing so would dilute our resource and focus.”

Not all equipment companies see it as imperative that they be full members, as long as they have access to documentation providing information on new standards and the latest safety recommendations.

Keith Stewart, of German based cryogenic valve manufacturer Herose, told gasworld, “Being a full member is not a necessity as long as equipment manufacturers are made aware of the standards the industry is setting and that they have the opportunity to make recommendations; they do have a role to play.”

“I agree to OEMs playing a role but I am not sure if it is in the global interest of the industry to have the equipment manufacturers chairing committees and being the decision makers.”

Small companies
Another grey area within the industry is the extent to which small gas companies are involved in decision making.

All of the major gas associations that gasworld spoke to, said that as long as a small gas company can pay their membership fees, they are welcomed as a full member.

However, some of the smaller companies would argue that the major regional associations are dominated by four of the major players in the gas industry, and therefore some believe that the SME’s (Small Medium Enterprises) do not have a real opportunity to influence what is happening on a local, regional or global scale.

In India, things are slightly different – SMEs play an important role in decision making. On being asked about the dominance of multinationals in the Indian gas market, Mr Karan Bhatia, President of All India Industrial Gases Association (AIIGMA), told gasworld, “Four of the majors, Air Liquide, Linde, Air Products and Praxair, have formed an association by the name of Gas Industries Association (GIA), which is an associate member of AIGA.”

“AIGA has a very different agenda to AIIGMA, AIGA is basically an association of all the multinationals wanting to ensure global standards are adopted at a regional and even a local level to ensure improvement in technical and safety standards,” he continued, adding that there is no Indian independent company on the board of GIA/AIGA.

According to Bhatia, the mission of AIIGMA is, “To act as a catalyst for rapid economic development and prosperity of the industry and community dealing with gases, through promotion of trade, industry and services, and also strengthening linkages for technological advancement.”

He adds, “This is done effectively through emphasis on safety and productivity improvement, and encouraging work ethos and business ethics.”

“AIIGMA represents almost all major gas manufacturers in India and it is working both within India and on the international stage through the auspices of ISO, to improve standards within the country.”

“AIIGMA also has equipment manufacturers as associate members... Since gas producers need equipment manufacturers in order to produce and distribute gases, AIIGMA is of the opinion that they cannot be and should not be alienated.”

Other opportunities
It could be argued that the major gas associations are not designed to cater to the needs of small companies and equipment companies, and that affiliated associations and industry specific associations respectively, are in place (or could be formed) to fill in any gaps.

Smaller companies can theoretically have more of a say through these affiliated associations.

Brickell commented, “EIGA has its associate members, 27 national organisations. We have at least one meeting a year dedicated to national associations and we’re looking at how we can continue to improve communication with them.”

Similarly, equipment companies have associations solely geared towards their business. Finger explained, “The cylinder manufacturers for example have a ‘club’ like EIGA, where they can discuss specifics (standards) related to their industry, and we also have discussions with these manufacturers.”

The gas associations were keen to make it very clear that they are more than happy to work closely with associations like the Cylinder Manufacturers Association and alike, and stressed that although companies may not have voting rights, many of the associations’ documents and recommendations are widely available to them, downloadable from the websites.

It is very clear that through the auspices (and efforts) of IOMA and the IHC, as well as the major regional associations, such as AIGA, CGA, EIGA and JIMGA, our industry generally has a very good safety record in developed gas markets. The associations want to roll out best practices and knowledge to the emerging economies, in order to raise technical and safety standards.

One only has to look at the products we as an industry deal with – gases at high pressures and in liquid form at extremely low temperatures, to see the importance of continued development of safety standards across the whole spectrum – from production and distribution, through to applications.

Every incident that does occur is investigated fully and shared across the major associations, which then filter the information down to the regional associations.

However, it is clear that if these improved practices are to be rolled out successfully in emerging gas markets such as Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Far East, the large associations must nuture the smaller players in our industry (both equipment manufacturers and gas companies).

The solution? Work ‘top down’, whilst not forgetting to go ‘bottom up’ as well.