Business leadership and process safety: an easy introduction into a technical field

The history of process safety incidents worldwide has frequently shown shortcomings in process safety understanding which originated from the very top of business organisations.

In 2005, the world witnessed both the Buncefield incident in the UK and the BP Texas City refinery explosion in the USA. In the decades since those events occurred, there’s been an increased emphasis from the health, safety, and environment regulators on the subject of process safety.

Following the above catastrophes, the ‘Process Safety Leadership Group’ emphasised business leadership as one of the pillars of effective process safety management. You can read the eight principles of process safety leadership here.

As new attitudes towards process safety leadership have recently emerged, how can organisational leaders inject themselves into the extremely technical and scientifically complex field that is process safety? The answer to this is in the understanding of what process safety is and how it directly correlates to the overall safety of their organisation.

In this mini-series, we’ll explore what process safety is for business leaders and how they can create a credible top-down organisational wide process safety culture.

To kick things off, we would like to get you thinking about process safety and what it means to your business.

Understanding Process Safety and what this means to your business

Process safety is primarily concerned with industrial disasters – events that result in significant hazards of fires, explosions, toxic releases which can cause serious harm – killing or injuring people; significant environmental pollution; or severe impact on the business itself.

Understanding potential harm to your business

If we don’t understand what can go wrong, we won’t be very successful at managing it.

There are various tools employed to get a grip on the hazards present. This can include HAZIDHAZOP and LOPA, consequence modelling, physical property testing and chemical reaction hazard testing.

All of these tools and techniques require competent resources, which many businesses will not have in-house. Furthermore, they need to be used proportionately as they are dependent on how bad things can go wrong.

Understanding the safeguards available to you and your business

Now we understand what can go wrong, the next step is to insure against this.

Although it’s recommended that your business is insured against potential industrial disasters, we’re directly referring to the installation of barriers or safeguards within a process design. The installation of safeguards is there to prevent, control or mitigate disasters from happening.

Safeguards can be items of equipment installed in the process design. But, there is also a large element of management systems involved because we need to ensure that barriers will be effective and remain effective throughout the life of the process.

So, these barriers need to be properly designed, constructed, installed, operated, tested, inspected and maintained –this is why the management systems involved need to be proportionate, appropriate and implemented accordingly.

Understanding if business barriers and management systems are effective

The answer is, in essence, found in how you and your business learns and adapts. It requires your business to be in continuous improvement mode. Ultimately, your business always needs to be actively seeking to find potential gaps in your systems and strategy.

This is achieved by investigating incidents and near misses before finding the root cause or causes of things that have gone wrong. After this occurs, there are audits followed by review managing and monitoring performances using appropriate metrics.

Understanding both your personal and business commitment to process safety

All of this requires commitment and an understanding of the process safety operation from the very top of an organization. Commitment from business leaders to understand and involve themselves in an effective process safety strategy is a pillar to success.

Ultimately, there needs to be a further shift in thinking. Although you might employ and train process safety specialists, you need to consider a holistic approach to process safety in your organisation.

As a CEO or business leader, would you distance yourself from important marketing, financial or business strategy decisions? You wouldn’t! So why would you distance yourself from potential industrial accidents that could severely impact your business?

How Sigma-HSE can help

Sigma-HSE’s consultancy team and its testing houses can help businesses in all the aspects of the process safety cycle as described above. It is our experience that allows us to uncover the process safety gaps in your business and make necessary improvements to your working environment.

Working in partnership with you we can also develop bespoke technical training for all levels of your business. If you are a business leader or if you do come from a non-scientific background, please keep an eye out for our process safety leadership series and our on-demand events. In the coming months, we will publish relevant process safety themes and topics that aren’t overly technical.

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Sigma-HSE welcomes Michelle Murphy as the new President of Sigma-HSE INC., the North American division of the Sigma-HSE group.