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Process Safety Gaps Persist

Nov. 16, 2021
Survey shows corporate execution still nowhere near matches intention

The latest annual report on corporate safety efforts conducted by Sphera, Chicago, points to continuing gaps in companies’ efforts to bolster process safety. In addition, the Safety Report 2021, issued at the end of October, covers an expanded landscape that includes health and safety, unlike the five previous reports. This reflects the structural adjustments necessitated by COVID-19 to keep workers safe.


“The pandemic has highlighted just how quickly safety and risk management processes can be thrown off balance. Safety in all its aspects makes for a resilient and sustainable business model, especially in an era when ESG [environmental, social and governance] goals are of the utmost importance,” notes Sphera CEO and president Paul Marushka. “An effective safety culture and efficient safety process helps ensure a healthy workforce and enhanced business performance. However, we are still seeing a gap in how companies link safety and business performance, which highlights a need for a more holistic approach through data, software and expertise.”

The report, titled “The Chasm Continues,” draws upon responses from 349 risk, process safety, and health and safety professionals from a variety of sectors, including chemicals and petrochemicals, and oil and gas.

One of its key findings is the gulf between intention and execution remains large. While 75% of respondents declared safety is part of their corporate structure and has the support of the highest levels of management, only 40% (55% of those at firms with more than 10,000 employees) said a well-defined roadmap for improving safety performance exists. Moreover, 21% admitted there’s a gap between safety intensions and what really happens — a gap the report terms “concerning.”

Respondents from the chemical/petrochemical and oil/gas sectors painted a somewhat better picture, with 86% and 85%, respectively, stating safety is part of corporate culture. In addition, the survey found those two sectors more heavily use leading indicators to enhance safety — with 56% of those respondents reporting that versus 46% of overall respondents from large companies.

Among the main drivers for developing a strong safety culture, respondents most frequently cited reducing exposure to operational and major accident hazards (60%), followed by regulatory compliance (48%), and corporate and board priority (37%).

However, several obstacles commonly hamper delivering planned safety-critical maintenance and inspection; a majority of respondents (51%) pointed to limited resources, while conflicting priorities (cited by 43%) and limited budgets (noted by 31%) came next.

In addition, deficiencies in incident reporting undermine many safety-improvement efforts. Over a quarter of respondents (27%) said such reports only cover incidents but not near misses, and also lack observations.

The survey showed significant scope and need for companies to take fuller advantage of digital tools.

More than half of respondents (56%) noted their companies still manually track critical safeguards and barriers such as loss of containment and structural integrity; only 19% stated that safeguards are monitored in real time. Moreover, 68% of respondents said their companies rely on paper-based systems or office applications (e.g., ones for word-processing and spreadsheets) to identify risk. The survey also indicated that higher degrees of siloed data afflict 43% of respondents’ companies.

You can download a copy of the report here.

MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can email him at [email protected]
About the Author

Mark Rosenzweig | Former Editor-in-Chief

Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's former editor-in-chief. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' magazine Chemical Engineering Progress. Before that, he held a variety of roles, including European editor and managing editor, at Chemical Engineering. He has received a prestigious Neal award from American Business Media. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from The Cooper Union. His collection of typewriters now exceeds 100, and he has driven a 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk for more than 40 years.

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