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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

The process of safety

The process of safety
Article Type:
Publication Date:
New Zealand

If your organisation suffered a catastrophic event that resulted in the loss of one of its facilities, would it recover? This was the challenge laid down by Damien Bassett during his presentation on process safety at the Safeguard conference.

Bassett, PSM practice leader Australia and New Zealand with DuPont Sustainable Solutions, said that in the United States, only one-third of organisations in that position decided to rebuild the lost facility; and that regardless of that decision, 20 percent of such organisations were out of business 10 years later.

He began with a "safety share", a DuPont ritual at the start of any meeting or telephone conference. He showed an image of a man sitting, slumped, with his hand over his eyes. He once was a young engineer who dreamt of a great career, "and now I am sitting here with a lawyer beside me outside a royal commission. How did I get myself into this position?"

Process safety, said Bassett, was focused on avoidance of catastrophic events, as well as on reducing the severity of other incidents. It was a life cycle process which needed to begin at the facility design stage and continue through commissioning, operation, and ultimately to mothballing.

"Building a culture of process safety is not easy. It takes a lot of management drive. As a leader you have to maintain the rage."

He cited the BP Texas City refinery explosion in 2005, which left 15 people dead and more than 170 injured. The focus was on workplace safety - daily injury rates - but not on process safety.

"Most leaders are driven by TRIFR. At Texas City several key mechanical inspections were overdue. The leaders didn't have the right technical background and expertise so they focused on other things."

Companies which successfully manage process safety, he said, have a robust management system which identifies, evaluates and mitigates process risk at all stages of a facility's life. They ensure people who work on process safety are subject matter experts. There is a strong culture around following procedures, and to detect when procedures are not right and change them.

Bassett listed risk factors which threaten process safety, including competing priorities (production vs quality vs costs), insufficient resourcing, a weak audit function, and the introduction of new technologies - or even of new people in critical safety roles.

"Organisations which do not have good change management tend to unknowingly increase their risk."

The DuPont approach, he said, was based on four key elements:

  • Establish a process safety culture;
  • Provide management commitment and leadership;
  • Implement a comprehensive process safety and risk management programme;
  • Achieve operating excellence through operational discipline.

"The thing we find that often doesn't work is management commitment: understanding what needs to be done, opening the purse-strings, really driving it."

The first element - safety culture - should be approached from a pre-existing position of strength. If there is a positive learning culture, use that as a good place to start. Or if there is a great management team, use them as the lever.

Whichever approach was taken, Bassett said there is a need to demonstrate "felt" leadership, that is, leadership that is seen and heard and understood.

"You have got to visit and speak to people. You can't demonstrate felt leadership by sending an email to all staff."

Bassett was challenged by a question from the floor: why should I spend money on something that will almost certainly never happen? His reply drew an analogy between process safety management and buying insurance.

"It gives you confidence that you are managing risk so you avoid being blind-sided. You are sustaining your reputation, your social right to operate. You are able to keep doing what you do. Not paying attention to it is a recipe for disaster."

No one needed to mention Pike River.


People Mentioned:
Damien Bassett
Organisations Mentioned:
DuPont Sustainable Solutions
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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