Process Safety Management: Key Concepts and Pillars

Refinery
July 30, 2020

It is my pleasure to write this first post of a series of posts that will be published on the Enablon blog over the course of the next few weeks.

My name is Paul and I’m with CGE Risk Management Solutions. In February, Wolters Kluwer announced that it had completed the acquisition of CGE. The company is now part of the same EHS/ORM group that includes Enablon and eVision.

Together, we offer solutions that are especially well suited for the implementation of a process safety management framework.

In this introductory post, I explain process safety in more detail with the aim of increasing your understanding on the topic.

What is Process Safety?

Process safety generally refers to the prevention of unintentional releases of chemicals, energy, or other potentially dangerous materials (including steam) during processes that can have a negative effect on the people or environment.

Process safety involves, for example, the prevention of leaks, spills, equipment malfunction, over-pressures, over-temperatures, corrosion, metal fatigue and other similar conditions.

Process safety programs focus on design and engineering of facilities, maintenance of equipment, effective alarms, effective control points, procedures and training.

Process safety is about asking three questions:

  1. Do we understand what can go wrong?
  2. Do we know what are the systems in place to prevent things going wrong?
  3. Do we know that these systems will work when needed?

The three questions come from the UK Health and Safety Executive press statement following the conclusion of the Buncefield tank farm explosion court case in 2009.

Process Safety vs. Occupational Safety

Process safety and occupational safety are different. The former focuses more on procedures, operations, equipment, facility design, etc., while the latter focuses more on people, behaviors, human psychology, etc.

I like to use this comparison: Process safety is about “stopping the plant bumping into you”, while occupational safety is about “you bumping into the plant”.

This is why occupational safety performance does not tell you how well process safety is being managed.

To go further into detail, there are three key factors that distinguish process safety management from occupational safety:

  1. Process safety incidents are high consequence and low frequency events. By contrast, occupational safety incidents are relatively low consequence and high frequency events. Most of us have no personal experience of a serious process safety event. Personal experience is often a way to keep something at the front of our minds. When nothing is going wrong, it can lead us to the assumption that we are doing everything right.
  2. There is almost always a separation in time between actions that cause process safety events and their effects. This is called latency.
  3. In process safety events, the victim is generally not the agent. In occupational safety, the victim’s action often leads directly to the incident. Causes of process safety incidents are often more complex and organisational.

This means we need to take a different management approach to process safety; an approach better described as risk management than safety management.

Pillars of a PSM Framework

There are many process safety management frameworks documented. My favourite is the one established for the energy industry in the UK by the Energy Institute (EI).

The EI PSM framework is very similar to those of the U.S. Centre for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), but I find that it’s presented in a clearer way.

There are four pillars that form the EI PSM framework. If an organization gets the four pillars right, then they should have Assured Operational Integrity and they are managing their process safety risk.

Below are the four pillars of the framework, and the individual elements for each:

1) Process and Plant Safety Leadership

  • Leadership involvement and responsibility
  • Identification and compliance with legislation and industry standards
  • Employee selection, placement, and competency assurance
  • Workforce involvement
  • Communication with stakeholders

2) Risk Identification

  • Hazard identification and risk assessment
  • Documentation, records, and process knowledge management

3) Risk Management

  • Operating manuals and procedures
  • Process and operational status monitoring and handover
  • Management of operational interfaces
  • Standards and practices
  • Management of change and project management
  • Operational readiness and process start-up
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Inspection and maintenance
  • Management of safety critical devices
  • Work control, Permit to Work, and task risk management
  • Selection and management of contractors and suppliers

4) Review and Improve

  • Incident reporting and investigation
  • Audit, assurance, and management review and intervention

There are specialized Enablon applications at each pillar of the process safety management framework, and they’re integrated into a single platform.

The integration is a key attribute because data produced as an output at one pillar is often used as an input by another pillar. For example, a management of change (MOC) request must determine whether an existing risk assessment should be updated, or if new hazards may be introduced.

Similarly, an incident investigation that reveals a weakness or failure of a control should trigger a review of the pertinent risk assessment(s).

These are but two examples, there are many more.

Over the next few weeks, there will be additional posts on process safety management. Be sure to keep an eye on this blog to learn more about PSM and what Enablon can do.

Software Benchmark: Process Safety Management

Digital technology plays an important role in operational risk management strategies. Some firms invest in software to cover many industrial risk management usage scenarios, but others are primarily interested in digitizing their approach to process safety management. Explore this Verdantix report to learn more about the 17 most prominent software vendors offering PSM functionality.

Author

Paul McCulloch

Paul McCulloch

Process Safety & Implementation Consultant - CGE Risk Management Solutions