Safetip #85: Support & Sustain a Culture of Process Safety Excellence

June 28, 2017
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

This week’s Safetip is about the organizational elements and leadership competencies needed to support a culture of process safety excellence.

Process Safety Management (PSM) helps to reduce the risk of incidents from unexpected releases of toxic, reactive, or flammable liquids and gases in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals. But PSM by itself is not enough to prevent catastrophic events, according to an article in Safety+Health magazine. There is a link between leadership and process safety. A leader’s impact on culture also plays a role in preventing catastrophic events. Organizations must define what they need from leaders to support a culture of process safety excellence, the article says.

4 Key Elements Must Be Supported

According to the Safety+Health magazine article, a culture must support four key organizational elements to achieve effective process safety:

  • Anticipation: Recognizing and acting on the weak signals that may indicate there’s a risk for a catastrophic event.
  • Inquiry: Asking the right questions and performing the right analyses.
  • Execution: Using systems consistently and reliably.
  • Resilience: Giving workers knowledge and encouraging them to have a willingness to intervene on small issues, to prevent them from becoming big issues.

4 Competencies for Process Safety Leadership

Leaders must drive culture. The Safety+Health magazine article lists the following four basic competencies that leaders need in order to succeed:

  • Have the conviction to lead safety. Process safety needs people who will lead because they believe deeply that it’s the right thing to do. The four key elements described previously must be developed and sustained over time, often in the face of conflicting priorities.
  • Understand how process safety works. Effective process safety leaders continually discuss exposure and risk, and use metrics to provide feedback to their teams. Leaders don’t need to be experts on safety, but they need to know enough to detect patterns, assess information and ask the right questions.
  • Possess and practice great leadership skills. “Safe companies have great safety leaders”, the article says. Effective safety leaders share the following practices and skills: vision, credibility, communication, collaboration, feedback, action orientation and accountability.
  • Have the ability to influence people. Great leaders use a transformational style to engage people. Process safety leaders must help people to: 1) know and execute process safety systems reliably; 2) detect weak signals; 3) question assumptions; and 4) intervene when necessary.

The article ends by reminding readers to create a culture that supports and sustains process safety excellence by reinforcing and developing leadership behaviors that drive anticipation, inquiry, execution and resilience.

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