Successfully Reduce Process Safety Events — Part 1

Other companies can emulate the approach proven effective at Dow

By John Champion, Sheila Van Geffen and Lynnette Borrousch, The Dow Chemical Co.

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The Prevention of process safety incidents (PSIs) has received emphasis at Dow for a long time. In 1995, business and corporate environmental, health and safety (EH&S) leadership established formal goals to significantly reduce incidents over the next ten years. These goals provided the platform for driving breakthrough performance impacting employees, customers, communities and the environment. This emphasis yielded a more-than-threefold decrease in PSIs over those ten years (Figure 1).

In 2005, another ten-year goal was established to further reduce the number of PSIs and their severity by 75% and 90%, respectively. As Figure 1 shows, this goal was met in 2011 and sustained through 2015.

This article focuses on some of the key programs that enabled us to break through the plateau we had reached in 2005–2008 and continue to drive us closer to zero. A second article next month will cover other crucial programs.

The Basis For Success

Figure 2 illustrates the three foundations of effective process safety programs. These aspects intertwine to form the overall approach to success that we have seen in practice in Dow.

At the base of the triangle, supporting everything we do, is leadership. Leadership support at all levels of the organization is the essential foundation for sustaining success in process safety.

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On the left side of the triangle are the process safety systems that Dow has implemented globally through our operating discipline management systems. These systems include Dow’s Process Risk Management Standard (PRMS) and Global Mechanical Integrity Safety Standard (GMISS) as well as our personal safety standards, and many others. Compliance with these internal requirements, which typically go beyond the minimum mandates of regulations, is what enables long-term success.

On the right side of the triangle is operational discipline, i.e., what occurs in the plant on a daily basis. Operating discipline performed successfully enables effective implementation of process safety systems. For example, an inspection protocol established under GMISS for a facility’s piping circuits must be properly followed for effective inspections and a decrease in containment losses resulting from mechanical integrity failures. How the plan is executed will determine whether the outcome is successful or not.

Leadership At All Levels

Dow’s commitment to continuously improve both personal and process safety performance aligns to corporate core values. Dow established EH&S as its top priority, engaging all employees across a multitude of business and functional sectors. Dow has clear expectations that all employees are responsible for safety, and measures both business and employee performance against achieving safety expectations. Sponsorship of EH&S begins at the board of directors; it is a key aspect of all leadership roles, as underscored by goals, expectations and resource allocation.

Leadership commitment is critical. Operations benefits from leadership support provided by both the business and corporate EH&S leadership and aligned to Dow’s common process safety vision. Business and corporate EH&S leadership define the expectations and strategic goals needed to achieve targets. They allocate the resources necessary to drive improvements and sustain performance. So, let’s highlight a few examples of their direct engagement:

Leadership governance. Ensuring that ongoing support, resources and priorities are properly managed is crucial for achieving process safety improvements. The operations governance team (OGT), led by the corporate EH&S director, is designed to drive business and functional accountability for EH&S performance in operations facilities. It also provides functional oversight and direction regarding alignment to Dow corporate EH&S policies, standards and requirements. The OGT oversees the corporate risk management of facilities to drive EH&S improvements and ensure the operating business and regional teams are managed appropriately in accordance with the corporate risk criteria.

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