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Improve Your Process Safety Culture to Drive Improved Safety Performance

Process Safety Culture Improvement Blog 1 - by Judith Lesslie, CFSE, CSP, CCPSC

This article kicks off a series of blogs around practical suggestions and methods to drive improvement of the process safety culture at manufacturing facilities. This is a big subject with many facets, and there is plenty of professional reading available to help with it. I would point out, in particular, a fine work from the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS), Guidelines for Risk Based Process Safety (Wiley, 2007, 1st edition). This book provides an excellent framework for establishing a systematic approach to process safety program elements.

The Challenges – A Systematic Approach to a Strong and Effective Process Safety Culture

What do I mean by a systematic approach? Let’s take a look at leadership commitment as an example. In a process safety culture that is systematically improving, senior facility management demonstrates a strong commitment to process safety by visibly prioritizing safety over production targets, allocating resources for process safety activities and initiatives, and actively participating in process safety programs and their improvement.

How do you do that in the real world? There are many ways to tackle the topic, but let’s begin with a structured approach. In a strong process safety culture, there will typically be a routine management review process that; assesses the effectiveness of a variety of systems, including process safety programs, feeds improvement opportunities back into the applicable programs, executes improvements, and tests the changes on an ongoing basis: This process is demonstrated as follows:

Routine management review process in circular lifestyle format

Figure 1: Routine management review process

A process safety management cycle of this type takes a close look at process safety trends:

  • near misses and incidents, together with the investigations and completion of actions;

  • assessment of regulatory compliance, including audit results, findings, and follow-up actions;

  • effectiveness of the facility risk management processes, including PHAs, the health of critical safeguard systems, and follow-up actions

  • the health of mechanical integrity at the site;

  • and the adequacy of safety policies and regulations, together with checking on the health of the safety training system;

  • among other potential topics 

Preparing for and completing a review of this type is likely to yield a numerous corrective actions and continuous improvement opportunities. 

Plan Do Do Act Circle

If this sounds to you a bit like a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) approach, you are right on target.  Think of the overall systematic approach to effective leadership of process safety and culture as a number of individual program continuous improvement processes running within the larger structure of an overall leadership improvement cycle.

The Stakes

The stakes for a strong process safety culture are higher than ever.  A single significant loss of primary containment could have potential impacts ranging from serious on-site and off-site injuries and illnesses, to environmental damage, to company reputational impact, to financial costs from equipment damage, to production loss, and even lawsuits filed against the company.

So Now What?

The upcoming series of blogs on process safety culture will address more aspects of the overall process safety improvement cycle, examine aspects of individual process safety programs, and offer suggestions on both bigger and smaller efforts and methods to drive improvements.  Stay tuned for more!


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