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Structuring Your Process Safety Programs

Process Safety Culture Improvement Blog 2 - by Judith Lesslie, CFSE, CSP, CCPSC

This article continues 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 you can look forward to more bite-size potential improvement guidance for your own process safety culture.


The Challenges – What is Process Safety Structure and Why Does It Matter?

What do I mean by a process safety structure?  I cannot do much better than build on the concept described in 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 visualization of process safety program elements:

In this structure, there is a foundation of leadership underpinned by foundational blocks of commitment to process safety, understanding and management of process risks, and a learning and improvement cycle driving continuous improvement for all pillars. Each foundational block includes the pillars that support the overall structure, including all of the PSM and RMP elements that we are familiar with and some supporting elements to help keep those main elements on track.

In a high-performing process safety culture, subject matter experts (SMEs) are available for each element or pillar.  In the best facility organizations I have seen, each SME chairs one or more element committees assigned to monitor and drive improvements in element performance. A central committee composed of facility leadership and the SMEs regularly monitors and helps encourage progress by each pillar committee.  Sometimes that central committee monitors a broader range of health, safety, and environmental aspects than the process safety pillars depicted above, which is a model that I have also seen work well.  Here is a way to visualize one potential central and element committee structure, with the central committee driving the overall improvement cycle and each element committee focusing on and interacting with the central committee:

Improvement cycle and element committees in circular form

In this type of systematic structure, there is an expectation that the element committees will have a set of meaningful leading and lagging measures that will be monitored and trended on a routine basis (monthly to quarterly) and used as a basis for driving continuous improvement planning.  Pillar metrics, planning, and resource needs are routinely reported to the central committee, and there is a further expectation that improvement planning will be reviewed, agreed and resourced as needed by the central committee.  You can think about this as a continuous two-way feedback cycle.  The assignment of a senior leadership team member as day-to-day liaison with each element committee is another enhancement I have seen work well to deliver results.

Worthy of special notice, in a strong process safety culture, there will typically be an annual management review process that assesses the overall effectiveness of process safety. This process feeds improvement opportunities back into the applicable pillar committees for testing against line perspectives, executing improvements, and monitoring and assessing results.  This is easily visualized as the Review step of the central committee.

Does this sound like a lot of work?  You’re absolutely right!  Will it improve your process safety culture and deliver strong performance results?  Right again!  There are other benefits as well.  As the central committee and SMEs recruit and develop enhanced process safety capability in facility personnel (including line personnel) participating in committees, you gain organizational competency; you are able to demonstrate strong employee participation, one of the key elements of process safety; and you provide a channel for line personnel to demonstrate leadership and technical qualities that might not otherwise be apparent.  There is a lot to gain by structuring your process safety programs as described.


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?

Consider reviewing this structure with your facility’s senior and extended leadership team.  Adopting the structure exactly as described may not be the best fit for your facility, but variations of it are within the reach of organizations of varying sizes.  There is much to gain in process safety performance with wide personnel involvement in improvement activities!

Future blogs in this series 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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