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Process Safety Pays: Leading a Process Safety Culture

25 August 2011

Process safety is vital to ensure the protection of employees, the environment, communities and corporate reputation. But our research shows that there are gaps in the understanding of process safety management at the most senior levels in industry – for example Finance Directors, CEOs and Board members.

With a number of events in recent years highlighting the need for improved process safety leadership, Cogent SSC explains the importance of process safety and outlines what’s being done to embed process safety within organisations and promote senior management involvement.

The petroleum industry has an excellent safety record, but when incidents do occur they can have catastrophic consequences and can severely damage the reputation of an organisation and the industry.

Whenever lives are lost, it comes as a stark reminder of the potential dangers involved and constant need for vigilance needed when operating in these high hazard, strategically important, industries. So industry leaders, senior executives and board members all have a critical role to play in improving process safety. Process safety leadership is at the heart of managing a major hazard site – it is vital to ensure that the risks posed are effectively managed.

Since the incidents at Buncefield and Texas City late in 2005, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been pressing the UK Process Industry to fully address Process Safety Management (PSM) and its implementation in their organisations. Much has been done by many interested stakeholders during the last several years to try to engage the sector in this important matter. In January 2007, the publication of the Baker Report on the Texas City explosion brought PSM into sharp focus as the principal finding was that the management had not distinguished between occupational safety (i.e., slips-trips-and-falls, driving safety, etc.) as opposed to process safety.

Over the past twelve months the issue of process safety has hit the headlines on a number of occasions, reinforcing the need for greater safety and risk awareness at the top. There can be no doubt that a positive approach to process safety leadership and management is critical to successfully managing a major hazard site, and it is true that in the near 30 years that have passed since the Bhopal disaster, process safety has undoubtedly gained the utmost corporate importance, and significant expertise has been developed, with many industry-wide guidelines being established. The concept of process safety has largely been well promoted and adopted amongst engineers working in the petroleum industry, although for some in senior management positions it has remained an issue to be delegated. But to maintain exceptional levels of process safety it is crucial that board and senior executives are fully aware of the implications of boardroom decisions on process safety.

Why then for some senior executives is this not the case? Possibly because the probability of a major incident occurring is of course very low in the petroleum and petrochemical industries due to the exceptional levels of competence amongst its engineers and operators. Plus the fact that some senior executives and board members may never have had the necessary technical experience, or real-life exposure to the operating environment to fully appreciate how their leadership of the organisation impacts on day to day safety.

So to improve further there needs to be a cultural shift, with executives investing more of their own time and resource into the areas of process safety leadership and process safety management, to build and maintain a positive safety culture that flows throughout their organisation, and that enables their organisation to display corporate responsibility through its actions. To do this, process safety needs to be understood at the top table and Cogent SSC and the Skills Academy have worked with decision makers in major petroleum and chemical companies operating around the UK to lead the charge towards excellence in process safety. Their aim is to put process safety at the top of the agenda for every COMAH site.

Despite the fact that over the last couple of years various courses and seminars have been developed to encourage businesses to engage in PSM, the uptake has been relatively poor and this contributes to the weaknesses which exist in PSM at senior executive level in many organisations. Reasons cited for the poor uptake have been, for example, the uncoordinated delivery of many PSM topics, confusion over quality assurance of provision, questions over the expertise of those delivering, but notably that there are gaps in the availability of relevant courses or programmes aimed at the executive and board level.

Building on previous work, particularly that of the Process Safety Leadership Group, it was recognised in 2010 that a joined-up and integrated programme of PSM training and education for employees at all levels was needed. Hence Cogent and the Skills Academy formed an industry led board, the Process Safety Management Project Board, including representation from the UK Petroleum Industry Association (UKPIA), the Chemical Industries Association (CIA), Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Unite the Union, and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to lead the development process.

The need for understanding at board, senior executive and site director level was a recurring theme for the PSM Board and as a result, a new training standard, Process Safety Leadership for Senior Executives, has been developed and work is continuing to develop process safety training standards for other industry roles.

At the request of the PSM Board, and to assure the quality and consistency of provision, the Skills Academy will endorse training courses or programmes and trainers that meet the requirements of the Process Safety Leadership for Senior Executives standard. Training Providers and employers will be able to submit programmes and courses for endorsement against this training standard for delivery from September 2011. (Further PSM standards for other levels in the organisation will be available in early 2012).

Since its announcement earlier in early July 2011, there has already been a significant level of interest in committing to using training underpinned by the Process Safety Leadership for Senior Executives training standard. This standard has been developed with employers and stakeholders to identify the skills, knowledge and understanding needed for effective process safety leadership training to take place. Designed to support senior executives, this standard provides a clear framework for understanding the principles of Process Safety Leadership across an organisation and the methods used to deliver sustainable results through engagement of the workforce.

As they develop, the Process Safety Management standards will be embedded in the Cogent Gold Standard competency framework which provides a skills benchmark for world class performance for the process industries, including the petrochemicals sector.

Allan Laing, CEO Pentagon Chemicals and Chair of the Process Safety Management Project Board explains how a dedicated approach to process safety leadership has helped Pentagon Chemicals. “Good process safety leadership requires that key business and operational decisions support and reinforce high standards of process safety management and the control of major hazard risks. Clear and positive process safety leadership is at the core of a major hazard business and is vital to ensure that risks are effectively managed.

Training of our operations technicians in process safety essentials has been going on for more than two years at our Workington plant. Operator confidence has undoubtedly improved alongside increased plant performance. It is now essential for the site senior executive to understand the PSM principles employed and take responsibility for the new KPIs to ensure that PSM is firmly embedded in the operating culture.

The development of training standards by Cogent SSC and the National Skills Academy for Process Industries will allow employers to develop the necessary expertise to ensure the highest standards of safety and responsible care and we welcome the development of additional training standards along similar lines in the future.”

In addition to the planned launch of the Process Safety Leadership standard, Cogent has recently launched new Guidelines for Competency Management Systems for Downstream and Petroleum sites. The new guidelines are result of extensive consultation and were designed with input from downstream industry experts. They will support the industry’s well developed health and safety policies and procedures. These are constantly under review in the light of new technology, operational experience and the sharing of best practice, as well as legislation.

The new guidelines are designed to ensure that an organisation’s competency management system not only improves staff motivation and performance, but critically reduces risks and the potential for human error.

Cogent CEO, Joanna Woolf said, “the need for organisation-wide processes for both developing and monitoring the competence of staff is paramount within both the sector and its supply chain.

“These guidelines have been designed to ensure such processes leave no stone unturned, and that competency management is enshrined across the entire workforce.”

Chris Hunt, Director General UKPIA added, “a sound competency management system aligns organisational needs with the development needs of individuals within the organisation.

“It demonstrates that your employees and contractors are competent to carry out the tasks they are required to perform, and that they are continually developing, alongside the introduction of new technology and regulation.”

These new guidelines are designed to work hand-in-hand with Cogent’s Gold Standard competency framework. This provides continuing professional development routes for a range of job roles across the sector and supports critical organisation-wide competence. Together, both these tools provide good practice in competency management, and are fully endorsed by the industry.

Training courses for Process Safety Leadership will be available from September 2011 and will be delivered through a specialist network of quality assured training providers.

For further information, contact the National Skills Academy for Process Industries on 0845 607 0140 or email

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