A Comprehensive Guide to Periodic Process Safety Management (PSM) Audits in Facilities

Table of Contents

A periodic PSM audit assesses a PSM program’s effectiveness and regulatory compliance. This audit involves reviewing documentation, operating, maintenance, and emergency procedures, training programs, incident reports, and documents supporting the 20 elements of the PSM program to verify compliance and identify opportunities for improvement.

Sigma-HSE consider that good practice dictates that the Process Safety Management (PSM) program is regularly audited at least every three years. The audit should be conducted by an individual with expertise in PSM, possessing the necessary knowledge to effectively evaluate and assess compliance and the program’s overall effectiveness.

The Periodic Process Safety Management (PSM) audit is a critical process aimed at validating facility adherence to safety procedures and ensuring regulatory compliance.

In this article, we delve into not only the primary objectives and evaluation of the elements of process safety (as contained in the Centre for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) framework and the Energy Institute framework) but also emphasise how the PSM audit process, encompassing documentation review, on-site assessments, and post-audit risk analysis, assists in safety compliance and continuous improvement in industrial processes. 

Additionally, we highlight the pivotal role Key Success Factors play in assessing the effectiveness of an organisation’s PSM system and identifying critical elements contributing to desired outcomes and goals in process safety.

Primary Objectives

The audit’s primary objective is to demonstrate the adequacy and adherence of the facility’s PSM procedures and practices. PSM audits help verify the organisation is following the appropriate regulations, identifying any areas where improvements can be made, and providing recommendations.

Checking compliance: The audit confirms that the organisation is adhering to the requirements of the frameworks. It verifies that all necessary elements of PSM are in place and are being properly executed.

Finding weaknesses: The audit assists in uncovering weaknesses or shortcomings in the organisation’s PSM program and its implementation. This might involve gaps in documentation, training programs, and how the various policies and procedures are actually implemented at a facility.

Assessing risks: The audit evaluates the effectiveness of the organisation’s risk assessments.

Reviewing documentation: During the audit relevant documents, records, and procedures are examined to ensure their accuracy, completeness, and effectiveness. The goal is to verify if the documented practices align with the written procedures and their implementation.

Employee engagement: The audit assesses the level of employee involvement in the process safety management (PSM) system. It evaluates whether there is communication, training opportunities, and active participation in process safety activities.

Following each audit, a comprehensive report must be issued, documenting any findings observed. In response to these findings, a detailed plan of action is required for resolution.

Evaluation of the PSM Elements

Investigation of recent incidents, such as those at Buncefield and BP, Texas City, and the subsequent UK Process Safety Strategy have called for much greater emphasis to be placed on PSM when managing risks at hazardous installations.

PSM requires an organisation to consistently perform in the following areas:

  • Defining acceptable operating envelopes for all critical components of the process
  • Maintaining the process conditions within these envelopes
  • Understanding the impact of excursions
  • Maintaining and testing equipment and preventative and protective devices
  • Rigorous compliance with procedures
  • Professional management of change processes.

PSM is therefore thought of as a high integrity management system focussed on the critical plant and equipment.

Effective efforts to improve safety must be based on:

  • An understanding of the hazards and risks of the facilities and their operation
  • An understanding of the demand for, and resources used in, process safety activities
  • An understanding of how process safety activities are influenced by the process safety culture within the organisation.

The CCPS guideline approach is a process safety approach that recognises that all hazards and risks are not equal; consequently, it focusses more resources on higher hazard and risks. The main emphasis of the risk-based approach is to put just enough energy into each activity to meet the anticipated needs for that activity. In this way, limited company resources can be optimally apportioned to improve both facility safety performance and overall business performance.

The CCPS Guidelines for Risk Based Process Safety list 20 elements of PSM within four process safety pillars:

Commitment to process safety

  • Process safety culture
  • Compliance
  • Competence management
  • Workforce involvement
  • Stakeholder outreach

Understanding of hazards and risks

Management of risk

  • Operating procedures
  • Safe work practices
  • Asset integrity / reliability
  • Contractor management
  • Training / performance
  • Management of change
  • Operational readiness
  • Conduct of operations
  • Emergency management

Learning from experience

  • Incident investigation
  • Measurement and metrics
  • Auditing
  • Management review

The approach is to focus on the critical elements present on a site or facility.  The management system is expected to follow current accepted best management practices based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle.

The audit of the Process Safety Management (PSM) program encompasses the thorough evaluation of all the essential elements.

As part of the evaluation process, auditors usually examine documentation, conduct interviews with employees, observe operations, and inspect facilities to evaluate compliance and effectiveness. These findings are crucial in identifying any areas that may need improvement or have shortcomings within each element of the PSM program.

Why Perform a Periodic PSM Audit?

Performing periodic PSM audits is crucial for promoting a proactive approach to process safety management, identifying, and addressing potential risks, and continuously improving safety practices within an organisation.

Opportunity Identification within the PSM Program: The audit process goes beyond regulatory compliance by identifying opportunities for improvement within the PSM program. It serves as a proactive means to enhance operability, manage risks more effectively, and simplify processes.

Documentation for Management and Funding: Audits act as documentation tools for management, assisting in securing capital funding for addressing identified improvements. This documentation demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement beyond mere compliance.

Sharing Best Practices Across Facilities: Successful approaches identified during audits can be documented and shared across facilities. This sharing of best practices fosters efficiency and effectiveness by implementing proven strategies organisation-wide.

Addressing Common Issues Across Facilities: If common issues are identified across multiple facilities, audit results become the foundation for company-wide initiatives. This collective approach optimises resource allocation, ensuring uniform addressing of identified issues and prioritising actions.

Demonstrating Due Diligence to Stakeholders: The audit process serves as proof of due diligence to management, regulatory authorities, and the public. It demonstrates that identified risks are being appropriately addressed and processes are actively managed, fostering trust and accountability.

Establishing a Culture of Continual Improvement: Beyond meeting regulatory requirements, the audit process establishes a culture of continual improvement and risk management within the organisation. It promotes a proactive approach to identifying and addressing challenges for ongoing operational excellence.

The Periodic PSM Audit


The contributors in a PSM audit provide valuable input, insights, and expertise to enhance the effectiveness and thoroughness of the audit. They help ensure that different perspectives are considered, and a broader range of expertise is tapped into.

This can lead to a more comprehensive and meaningful review of the organisation’s process safety management system, helping to identify areas for improvement and drive continuous improvement efforts. Contributors may include various stakeholders within and outside the organisation, such as:

Key Contributors

Audit Team: The core group responsible for conducting the audit.

Personnel Responsible for Site PSM Program: Individuals owning different elements of the PSM program, ensuring their availability to the audit team during the on-site audit.

Site Management: Facilitates access to individuals, areas, and documentation on-site, aiding in a smooth audit process.

Operations and Maintenance Representatives: Invaluable insights come from those implementing procedures and doing the work; their input is crucial for understanding the practical aspects of the PSM program.

Auxiliary Contributors

Corporate Representation: Depending on the site and company, having corporate representation adds a broader perspective.

Additional Site Personnel: Additional site personnel might be needed for specific aspects; their presence can be tailored based on their expertise, ensuring efficient use of time during the audit.

The PSM audit is typically organised into distinct stages, starting with preparatory work that involves a comprehensive review of documentation, followed by the on-site audit phase, where assessments are conducted through interviews, observations, and document verification. Post-audit activities entail the analysis of gathered information, and finally, a detailed audit report is generated to summarise findings and provide recommendations for enhancing process safety.

This multi-stage approach is fundamental in identifying potential hazards, ensuring compliance with safety protocols, and fostering continuous improvement in the field of process safety within industrial operations.

1. Preparatory Work

Process Safety Analysis (PSA) Consultancy ServicesBefore conducting the PSM audit on-site, it is crucial to gather available documentation. This includes:

Risk assessments:  gives an understanding of the identification of hazards and risks for the facility, including the essential safeguards employed within the facility.

Hot Work Permits: Ensuring records are available for any hot work performed, showcasing adherence to safety protocols during activities involving open flames or high temperatures.

Management of Change: Detailing major changes from initiation through hazard review, ensuring technical acceptability without altering risk scenarios, up to implementation and commissioning.

Incident Investigations: Providing records of incidents since the last audit, along with a thorough incident investigation process, including root cause analysis, interviews with affected personnel, recommended corrective actions, and tracking of these actions for both personnel and third-party contractors.

Competence assurance: Providing training records and importantly, competence assurance assessments, not only for site personnel but also for any third-party contractors working on-site, ensuring comprehensive documentation of the associated programs.

Pre-Startup Safety Review: Documenting the process for modifications or shutdowns requiring startup safety reviews, demonstrating meticulous checks before restarting equipment or processes.

Equipment Inspections: Maintaining records supporting the asset integrity program, ensuring regular inspections, and documentation of quarterly or annual equipment checks with checklists or inspection reports.

Preventative Maintenance Records: Documenting the PM program in place, showcasing adherence to OEM or relevant standards, with records easily reviewable to validate the maintenance of equipment as per required standards.

Previous PHA reports and PSM Audit reports: Providing the audit team with reports from the last two cycles of Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) and Process Safety Management (PSM) audits before their on-site visit. This enables them to familiarise themselves with the site’s history, allowing for better planning and strategising for the upcoming audit, and ensuring a more informed and efficient assessment process.

Allowing the audit team to review this documentation before the on-site visit supports a focused and efficient audit process, maximising the value gained from their time on-site. This preparation helps the audit team be well-informed, facilitating discussions with operators and site personnel during the audit.

Once the required documentation has been received, the audit team will review it thoroughly and determine if any further on-site documentation is needed. Ample time between the documentation request and the site visit allows the team to identify areas for focus and assists in a comprehensive assessment.

2. On-Site Visit

During an on-site PSM audit visit, several key points are typically addressed including:

Facility Walkthrough: The audit begins with a physical walkthrough of the facility to observe and evaluate its physical conditions, equipment, systems, and processes.

Documentation Review: The auditor thoroughly reviews the process safety management program documentation and verifies the adequacy, comprehensiveness, and effectiveness of the implemented processes during personnel discussions.

Observation and Interviews: Interviews are conducted with personnel at different levels of the organisation, including management, operators, maintenance staff, and health and safety personnel.

Compliance Verification: Compliance with regulations is verified and compliance with industry standards, appropriate codes, and best practices is also evaluated.

Emergency Preparedness: The auditor evaluates the organisation’s emergency response procedures and preparedness for responding to process safety hazards, incidents, accidents, or releases. This includes assessing emergency drills, training programs, communication protocols, and emergency equipment readiness.

Management Systems Evaluation: The effectiveness of the organisation’s process safety management systems is evaluated by reviewing the management of change processes, incident investigation procedures, employee training programs, internal audits, performance metrics, and management of safety-critical equipment and safeguards.

3. Post-Audit Activities

Post-audit activities are undertaken to ensure that the necessary actions are taken based on the findings and recommendations of the audit. These activities are essential for closing the loop and driving improvement in the audited PSM program.

Audit Report Preparation: Initiate the post-audit phase with the audit team drafting a comprehensive report detailing on-site observations.

Actions Tracking Register: Implement a system to track and manage audit findings. This could align with existing processes like PHA action item tracking or may involve a separate, dedicated document or software programs. The key is to ensure findings are easily accessible for follow-up.

Findings Close-outs: After addressing identified issues, thoroughly document the actions taken. Whether it’s updating a procedure or rectifying a deficiency, maintaining clear documentation is vital.

Maintain for the Next Two Audit Cycles: Keep a record of findings and close-outs for at least the subsequent two audit cycles to ensure that past findings contribute to ongoing improvement efforts. It also allows for the removal of information that is no longer relevant, keeping the documentation focused and relevant.

Audit Report

The audit report provides a detailed summary of the findings, observations, and recommendations identified during the audit process. This report serves as a valuable tool for the organisation, allowing them to gain insights into the effectiveness of their process safety management program, identify areas for improvement, and prioritise the implementation of corrective actions to prevent process safety risks.

Typical contents of the Periodic PSM Audit report include:

Introduction: Provides an overview of the report’s purpose and scope.

Process & Facility Description: Details the specific processes and facilities under examination.

Documentation Analysed: Enumerates the documentation scrutinised during the audit, offering a sample to substantiate findings.

Methodology: Outlines the approach employed, including an initial document review and on-site interviews with personnel from relevant departments. This transparent methodology aids external parties in understanding the identification of findings.

Contributors: Identifies key contributors, notably management personnel, and to ensure anonymity, uses generic titles like process operator and maintenance technician. This safeguard promotes open and honest feedback during the audit.

Audit Recommendations: Presents the identified findings and associated recommendations stemming from the audit process.

Key Success Factors

Key Success Factors help determine the effectiveness of the organisation’s process safety management system. These factors identify the critical elements or areas that contribute to achieving the desired outcomes and goals of process safety.

Accuracy and Availability of Documentation: The efficacy of an audit is heavily reliant on the accuracy and ready accessibility of documentation. Mismatched or outdated procedures hinder the audit’s value, emphasising the importance of aligning provided documentation with on-site practices.

Experience and Skills of Audit Team: Assembling an audit team with diverse skills is vital, including at least one senior member with extensive audit experience. A seasoned member can identify potential issues, distinguish standard practices from deviations, and offer practical solutions, ensuring a thorough and effective audit process.

Technical Skills & Insights of Contributors: The technical proficiency and insights of contributors, particularly experienced personnel, significantly influence the quality of information gathered during the audit.

Duration Available for Preparation of Audit: Adequate planning time is crucial for a successful audit. Rushing into an audit without proper preparation jeopardises the thoroughness of document reviews and on-site activities. Planning well in advance allows for a comprehensive approach, minimising the risk of oversight.

Schedule of Audit: Scheduling the audit at a strategic time is key to its success. Avoiding periods of high workload or vacation months ensures that the audit team operates at full capacity and that site personnel can fully engage without distractions, maximising the effectiveness of the audit.

Ability of Contributors to Provide Honest Answers to Questions: The ability of contributors to provide candid responses is foundational to the audit’s purpose. Anonymity for contributors, especially operational personnel, encourages open communication and ensures that truthful insights are gathered. The focus is not penalising but rather on identifying opportunities for improvement and addressing potential issues proactively.

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