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UK Process Safety Forum - Sharing experience across high hazard sectors

Author : Peter Davidson, CEO, Tank Storage Association

21 August 2017

Sharing lessons from incidents and near-misses has always been challenging.  We live and work in an increasingly litigious society, one where caution can mean giving away as little as possible.  Sharing information can be stifled by different legal situations, for example where there may be a pending criminal prosecution.  Despite this, organisations have much to gain from sharing safety information with others.

The explosions and fires in 2005 at the Buncefield oil storage terminal in the UK highlighted the importance of communicating key findings quickly, and understanding that these lessons may be equally relevant to other industrial sectors outside of bulk petroleum storage.

The Major Incident Investigation Board (MIIB) which looked into the Buncefield incident recommended that: “The sector should put in place arrangements to ensure that good practice in these areas <high reliability organisations>, incorporating experience from other high hazard sectors, is shared openly between organisations.”

The principles of process safety leadership which followed the MIIB report and its recommendations also stated that good leadership should: “Share best practice across industry sectors, and learn and implement lessons from relevant incidents in other organisations … to maintain the currency of corporate knowledge and competence.”

The response of several UK industries to these recommendations was to form a new body, the Process Safety Forum (PSF).

PSF Formation

In understanding that many companies had developed mechanisms for sharing information within their own sector through relevant trade associations, it was logical that the PSF should engage with these trade bodies.  The PSF first met in the summer of 2009 with representation from the offshore oil, refining, chemical, bulk liquid storage & warehousing and nuclear sectors.

Selection of a chair was critical to its success – a leader was needed with a background in hazardous industries and a strong and deep understanding of safety.  Rear Admiral Paul Thomas CB was elected later in 2009, and remains Chairman of the forum today.  Paul has a wealth of knowledge having held senior positions in the Royal Navy, AEA Technology, British Nuclear Fuels and the Rail Safety & Standards Board.

In responding to the MIIB recommendations and developing a mechanism through which good process safety leadership could be demonstrated, the PSF committed to:

•  understanding current initiatives and immediate future plans for sharing of process safety learning across all sectors;

•  identifying barriers to sharing of best practice and incident learning across sectors, and facilitating the development of recommendations for improvement;

•  identifying initiatives to enhance process safety leadership across sectors;

•  sharing understanding of effective process safety performance indicators;

•  promoting these initiatives through using relevant media.

PSF Today

Since its inception, the PSF has grown to include representation from over a dozen trade bodies, ranging from Aerosol manufacturers to Scotch Whisky producers.

PSF Learning Brief
PSF Learning Brief

The forum meets three times a year and uses a variety of resources to share relevant information on incidents and good practice between its members and externally:

•  Learning Briefs are published to promote key learnings from widely publicised incidents (such as the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash in 2015) and to highlight new guidance or standards that have been produced by industry, for example those published by the Chemical and Downstream Oil Industries Forum (CDOIF).

•  Safety Alerts are published to raise awareness relating to a specific incident reported by one of the forum members.  These incidents tend not to be those that are widely covered by the media, but may include important lessons for a wide range of industry sectors, for example highlighting additional test procedures for breathing apparatus. 

•  PSF Newsletters are published after each meeting.  These distil and highlight key discussion points raised during PSF meetings.

Given the many and diverse sectors with an interest in process safety there are inevitably many sector-focussed discussion groups and committees.  The PSF provides an important role in sharing relevant outcomes from these various fora – providing a mechanism for propagating good and best practice and highlighting future planned changes to the legislative regime, for example:

•  The Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Strategic Forum (CSF) is a joint industry/regulator group working to improve major accident hazard management and raise standards across business regulated under COMAH.  PSF provides means by which relevant learning can be shared more widely than simply the COMAH sector.

•  The Process Safety Management Competence Programme Board (PSMCPB) seeks to ensure safety throughout high hazard industries by raising awareness of Process Safety Management, providing regulation of training solutions and courses to improve process safety knowledge and understanding.  PSF encourages this work to be more widely publicised, raising awareness of process safety competency training to those businesses not directly involved with the training development.

These resources provide invaluable information for participating trade associations to highlight with their own members these key developments in process safety – enabling them to look beyond their own sectors.

PSF future

At the centre of the PSF is the ability to share information.  This has always been, and will always be, the primary objective.  This is achieved effectively by using the resources and networks discussed above.  However, the PSF is continually looking for ways in which it can improve this process, for example by asking:

•  Are we using the correct language and terminology to make what we do attractive to business?

•  How can we better engage with Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs)?

•  How can we expand our membership to include other relevant sectors?

•  How can we more formally link with other relevant bodies such as the COMAH Strategic Forum and Process Safety Management Competence Board?  Should we reach out to other bodies such as government departments and agencies?

•  Should we look beyond process safety and seek to include other relevant safety aspects?

PSF Safety Alert
PSF Safety Alert

These topics will continue to be discussed and, whatever the outcome, PSF members will ensure that they remain true to their core values.  Any changes that are made will ensure that PSF members remain fully engaged and the sectors that they represent continue to receive accurate, informative and relevant information. 


Can we say that the original MIIB recommendations have been met?  Emphatically Yes.  However, there is always a need to avoid complacency.  The PSF only functions because of the involvement and engagement of its members, and they will only continue to contribute whilst there is a benefit to be gained.  It is also important to ensure that the PSF does not become exclusive because of the language that it uses or that topics become stagnant because the same sectors contribute the same material.  Continual review and development is therefore essential and working with other groups and forums will be ever more important to ensure inclusivity.

Past incidents and changing regulation highlights the importance of sharing and learning, the PSF has an important role in helping to make sure that this happens.

More information

PSF members currently include: British Aerosol Manufacturers Association, Chemical Business Association, Chemical Industries Association, Explosive Industries Group, Engineering Construction Industry Association, Mineral Products Association, Oil and Gas UK, Rail Safety Standards Board, Scotch Whisky Association, Tank Storage Association, UK Petroleum Industry Association, UK Liquified Petroleum Gas Association, UK Onshore Pipeline Operators Association and Water UK.

If your organisation is interested in joining the PSF, or for more information visit the website or contact the forum secretary,

(N.B. Membership of the forum is limited to trade associations representing the interests of a sector.)

About the author

Peter Davidson is Chief Executive of the Tank Storage Association, representing the interests of over 22 companies which operate around 300 terminals in the bulk liquid storage sector.  He is also Secretary of the Process Safety Forum.

Prior to joining TSA in April 2016, Davidson was the Director of Safety, Commercial and Projects at the UK Petroleum Industry Association and, before that, Regulatory Compliance Manager for ABB Automation in the UK, specialising in the delivery of automation systems to highly regulated industries, including the Oil and Gas, Petrochemical, Pharmaceutical and Nuclear sectors.

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