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Process Safety in focus: exceeding good practice

20 May 2014

Following the explosions and fires at the Buncefield oil storage depot near Hemel Hempstead, in the early hours of Sunday 11th December 2005, the UK regulator set a challenge to industry in two key areas:
•  Operating with high integrity organisations, and
•  Delivering high performance through culture and leadership

Grangemouth in winter
Grangemouth in winter

To address these challenges, the UK Petroleum Industry Association (UKPIA) signed a ‘Commitment to Process Safety’ in 2008, which, through seven key objectives, cemented the industry’s high commitment to the health and safety of its workforce and the public. The Commitment recognises that a robust process safety performance is key to protecting people and the environment and that a spirit of cooperation amongst member companies is pivotal in the pursuit of process safety excellence.

The Process Safety Leadership Group (PSLG), responsible for addressing the Major Incident Investigation Board’s recommendations, also published the ‘Principles of Process Safety Leadership’ in 2009. These principles align closely with those of UKPIA’s Commitment, recognising that industry leaders have a critical role to play in process safety management and improvement.  This article from UKPIA looks at the practical steps the industry is taking to move this agenda forward.

The safety of its workforce and the public, management of risk and striving for operational excellence in process safety are top priorities for UKPIA and its members. The Association has since developed a number of initiatives to address the recommendations of its Process Safety Commitment and those of the Process Safety Leadership Group. Together, these form the Assuring Safety Sector Level Process Safety Strategy, launched in 2013. In addition, in order to promote safety and performance in the downstream oil & gas and other high potential hazard sectors, UKPIA introduced an Associate Scheme in early 2014. The scheme aims to widen the reach of the Association’s pivotal work in process safety and transportation and ensure that developments, learnings and tools are shared across high hazard industries.

UKPIA: A Strategy for Sector Level Process Safety

Process safety is managed by individual companies in order to meet their responsibilities under COMAH regulations in the UK, which represent a condition to operate. On the other hand, sector level process safety is a framework by which individual companies can enhance and improve what they do at site level by engaging more effectively, for instance, with the Regulator and other industry sectors. It is for this reason that UKPIA devised a sector level process safety strategy. The strategy, Assuring Safety, has three key principles: Working Together, Sharing and Learning and Encouraging Excellence. Each of these principles is delivered through a network of initiatives, committees and fora. These forming elements are highly integrated and, together, they play  an important role in collecting, analysing and sharing process safety information which, in turn, is brought together to identify and drive improvement through the development of guidance, tools and training standards.

Working Together

Trade associations, such as UKPIA for the downstream oil industry, have a key role to play in encouraging dialogue among members. In order to do so, UKPIA’s committee structure is such that all aspects of the supply chain are considered, thus providing a consistent, coherent and consolidated approach to process safety.

UKPIA also actively collaborates with external Groups and fora, such as the Energy Institute, COGENT and the Chemical and Downstream oil industry Forum, to enhance process safety. This collaborative process chiefly refers to the production of guidance and training standards through collaboration among industry, regulator and Unions. Cross-collaboration ensures that deliverables are representative of all parties.

Sharing and Learning

Improvements in process safety can be influenced by best practice and learnings from incidents or near-misses from other companies in the same business, or from other sectors. How risk is managed does not change between industries: the analysis of an incident in one industry has the potential to deliver important lessons for others. For this reason, the Process Safety Forum was established in 2009. It provides an important platform where initiatives, best practice, incident learning and process safety strategy can be distilled and shared across industry sectors.

Membership of the Forum is through trade associations and, since its inception, it has grown to include upstream oil and gas, downstream oil, tank storage, chemicals, nuclear, rail, engineering and construction, and energy network sectors.
High-level learnings from companies represented within the Forum are also collected and published as safety alerts, which are freely available from members’ websites. These provide useful insights into common issues that may affect several sectors and include topical subjects such as tank over-pressurisation and dealing with elevated levels of mercury in crude oil.

Encouraging Excellence

Through targeted self-assessment and analysis of key areas of process safety, UKPIA encourages excellence and the development of relevant technical guidance. In addition, sector level Process Safety Performance Indicators (PSPIs) are in place to measure improvement (and that of other initiatives in place through Sharing and Learning and Working Together).

Whilst much of UKPIA’s work on the development of detailed technical guidance is through the Energy Institute, it also contributes to relevant projects commissioned by other technical bodies such as CIRIA and EEMUA.


UKPIA’s Assuring Safety initiative cements the industry’s unyielding commitment to enhance process safety and delineates the importance of effective means in place to improve performance throughout the industry by working together, sharing and learning and encouraging excellence.
UKPIA believes that an effective sector level strategy must be based on:
•  A mechanism by which all relevant stakeholders can work collaboratively - identifying common priorities and goals and using available resources to close skills and knowledge gaps.
•  A mechanism by which we can look beyond good practice – identifying now what could go wrong in the future and proactively encouraging excellence in process safety performance.
•  A mechanism by which we can look outside of our own industry sectors, gaining information on potential hazards that could affect us, by sharing key information.
•  A mechanism by which we can measure our success as a sector, along with the success of the initiatives we have in place.

Assuring Safety encompasses all of these mechanisms and provides a clear reference point for other sectors wishing to develop a similar strategy.

This article was provided by the UK Petroleum Industry Association. For more information about Assuring Safety and UKPIA’s Associate Scheme, please visit

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