Achieve Effective Process Safety Management

"Felt leadership" plays a crucial role in ensuring success

By Brian Rains, DuPont Sustainable Solutions

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Besides ensuring their visibility to the organization, leaders relentlessly must make time to spend with employees and contractors. Only then will people in the company do the same. Managers wanting to demonstrate felt leadership must recognize they have a teacher/trainer role. That entails developing their own safety skills and passing them along. This takes time and resources for leaders and their subordinates so both can improve their safety skills. It's a prerequisite for improving PSM. Managers should practice what they preach. In other words, if they notice an unsafe situation, they should do something about it. This implies maintaining a good self-safety focus and ongoing self-assessment.

Effective PSM requires constant affirmation that safety is the highest priority. Managers who demonstrate a keen interest in safety can help enormously. Walking through a work area, they should comment on safety, identify and reinforce what's being done well and correct what's unsafe. At times, this will necessitate learning about the safety issues that exist on the shop floor and how they can be handled — but the effort will pay off. If a CEO takes the time to walk across the shop floor and points out to an employee a hazard that might injure the person, it sends a powerful message about the value the company places on safety.

At every level, managers should engage in conversation with employees to check whether they understand and apply the core safety principles of their tasks. That also underlines the clear focus leaders have on SHE expectations. It should be understood from the start that the expectation is zero incidents and progress towards that goal should be discussed and publicized regularly. Periodically, it helps to pay particular attention to one area that needs safety improvement. Last but not least, leaders should recognize and reward safety success.

This ideal of a manager demonstrating felt leadership contains many seemingly obvious elements — but how many leaders take the time to put them into practice or understand how to do so? How many of them know what questions to ask operations personnel, the line manager and others? We have worked with many companies in the chemical industry that struggle to visualize or project such leadership effectively into their environment or culture. They don't know how to be supportive and don't ask probing questions needed to strengthen a culture of PSM excellence.

In workshops with these companies, we've suggested a variety of different scenarios. Take a plant visit, for example. Managers can review a broad range of PSM elements on their tour. They can ask operations personnel about:

• any incidents that have occurred in other similar operations;
• the frequency and nature of emergency and disaster mock drills;
• the number and nature of recent near-misses and the follow-up from investigations into these and any other incidents that have occurred in the plant;
• the results of recent PSM audits and what weaknesses were identified; and
• whether any tests or process changes are active in the plant.

Another suggestion is to discuss the procedure governing the activity underway and ask how well it's written and followed. Managers also can ask about work permits. Posing questions shows some interest in PSM but isn't enough. Leaders must actively listen to answers and accept suggestions, take the time to review any work permits or procedures they are shown, and attentively evaluate the quality of the risk assessment and precautions taken to mitigate identified risks.

Internally at DuPont, we use felt leadership cards to help operations managers assess how best to demonstrate their commitment to PSM. These cards cover our PSM checklist:

• What is my spoken and unspoken message to the organization on PSM expectations — i.e., they're integral to core values and business success or a "necessary evil?"
• What have I done this month to review PSM metrics and performance indicators for the site?
• What am I doing to reinforce operational discipline?
• Is my organization providing adequate rewards and recognition for PSM accomplishments?
• How is my organization performing versus annual PSM performance rating metrics and objectives?
• Where must we enhance short- and long-term PSM resources and organizational capabilities?
• What's the status of PSM integration improvements at recently acquired sites or businesses?
• What are my direct subordinates doing to reinforce the value, expectations and accountabilities for PSM on an ongoing and consistent basis?
• Are we providing enough support and resources to maintain site equipment and infrastructure?
• What have I done to engage new leaders in my organization who play key PSM roles to ensure personnel involved in management-of-change activities are effective?
• Have I established clear measures on overall PSM program performance (i.e., not just a focus on incidents)?

On a practical level, these guidelines translate into day-to-day actions. Leaders who genuinely want to improve PSM through felt leadership must live by example — and look, ask, listen and adapt. That includes:

• ensuring workers have the correct tools and personal protective equipment (and that all equipment is in good condition);
• encouraging reports on unsafe conditions;
• welcoming and acting on suggestions;
• rapidly responding to workers' safety concerns;
• investigating incidents promptly and fully;
• stopping work if necessary to correct unsafe practices;
• prohibiting risky shortcuts to get a job completed;
• removing unsafe employees from their task; and
• promoting discussions about safety

Unfortunately, at many companies shop floor employees could have predicted — but were too intimidated to mention beforehand — incidents that occurred. An environment in which employees feel they can't speak up or contradict managers on safety strategy is a disaster waiting to happen.

The successful implementation of robust PSM systems in complex chemical operations requires a high degree of order and high-quality decision-making. Senior managers play a fundamental role in creating a culture where all members of the organization respond to PSM needs and perform related tasks at a very high level. They must exercise felt leadership if PSM is to succeed.

BRIAN RAINS is global practice leader for process safety management at DuPont Sustainable Solutions, Wilmington, DE. E-mail him at

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