Environmental Health & Safety

Trevor Kletz Bequeaths Better Process Safety

British expert introduced and championed key concepts to avoid accidents.

By Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief

trevor kletz buttonWidely regarded as a leading figure, if not the father, of process safety, Trevor Kletz died on October 31st at age 91. Fortunately, he authored many books and articles that offer his insights on what effective process safety efforts involve. In addition, he mentored many other professionals who will carry on his mission.

In 1944, Kletz received a chemistry degree from the University of Liverpool and joined Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), now defunct but then one of the world's leading chemical companies (see: "ICI Fades into History"). He started in research but after seven years was promoted to plant manager, first of an iso-octane facility and later of acetone and tar-acids plants. That hands-on experience of running and troubleshooting operations undoubtedly proved invaluable when, in 1968, ICI appointed him technical safety advisor, one of the first such positions in the chemical industry. His role was to advise designers and operating staff on how to avoid process accidents.

He pioneered the concept of inherent safety.

Kletz was fond of repeating: "There's an old saying that if you think safety is expensive, try an accident. Accidents cost a lot of money. And, not only in damage to plant and in claims for injury, but also in the loss of the company's reputation."

He strongly advocated hazard and operability (HAZOP) studies, which had their genesis at ICI. In addition, he pioneered the concept of inherent safety — explaining the approach in a landmark 1978 article "What You Don't Have, Can't Leak."

Kletz retired from ICI after 38 years and then focused his efforts on process safety consulting and writing, as well as working with students at Loughborough University in the U.K., and Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

His autobiography, "By Accident…: A Life Preventing Them in Industry," provides details on his life and career.

Judith Hackett, president of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), who also chairs the U.K. Health and Safety Executive, notes: "Trevor's impact on industry was striking. His ability to convey safety information succinctly, and effectively, was central to his success." IChemE chief executive David Brown adds: "Trevor unquestionably saved lives. There are people working in the process industries today who will go home safely to their families and loved ones, thanks to Trevor..."

Testifying to Kletz's worldwide stature and impact, Rafael Moure-Eraso, chair of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), in noting his passing, calls Kletz one of the world's greatest authorities on chemical process safety.

I first met Trevor in the 1970s and was struck by his easy-going, down-to-earth manner, his obvious passion for process safety and his commitment to help industry improve. He always was willing to share his insights; he wrote several articles for me. For instance, in 2009, when Chemical Processing wanted to mark the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, the worst industrial accident in history, Kletz clearly was the ideal person to provide a perspective on that accident and what the industry has done and still must do to prevent future disasters. His article, "Bhopal Leaves A Lasting Legacy," is compelling reading.

The best way to honor Kletz is to embrace his passion for process safety and heed his advice, as summarized in that CP article: "Engineers are good at solving problems but not as good at recognizing ones that should be solved. The major safety problem companies should address is maintaining awareness of incidents. Chemical makers should set up systematic procedures — rather than rely on memory — to recall lessons of the past, lessons for which we have paid a high price in deaths and injuries as well as money."

rosenzweigweb.jpgMARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can e-mail him at mrosenzweig@putman.net

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