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Process Safety Demands Perseverance

Sept. 11, 2019
Industry must never accept current performance as good enough


The upcoming Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center 2019 International Symposium testifies to the importance our industry places on process safety — and to the need for continual improvement. We must strive relentlessly for that unachievable goal of absolute process safety.

One hopeful sign since last year’s symposium is an apparent change in attitude by the Trump Administration. After its repeated attempts to defund the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) were thwarted by Congress, the White House now has nominated Katherine Andrea Lemos to become its chair; she has a background in aviation and previously served on the National Transportation Safety Board. The terms of the three remaining board members expire in 2020, and this may lead to significant changes at the CSB. We’ll be following what happens and the implications.

Meanwhile, a survey released in mid-August by Sphera, Chicago, underscores the need for more action. “The State of Process Safety and Operational Risk Management: Stuck in the Status Quo” emphasizes that a large gap exists between process safety intent and what occurs in everyday operations. Indeed, the survey — the fourth (earlier ones were done by Petrotechnics, which Sphera acquired) — provides some telling results. While 84% of respondents call safety part of their company’s corporate values, only 70% cite a defined roadmap and goals for improving safety performance, and just 63%, say their organization has good leading and lagging safety indicators. Moreover, merely 40% claim their company proactively manages process safety. This, the report notes, corresponds to previous surveys and suggests lack of progress in proactively managing risks.

A number of factors exacerbate the situation: 69% of respondents admit to a regular shortfall in completing scheduled asset-integrity inspections; 49% cite an exodus of experienced staff; and 45% point to conflicts between policies and procedures and frontline working practices.

Digitalization offers crucial help, stresses the report. However, the survey finds that companies are struggling to effectively take advantage of it: 75% of respondents say siloed data and piecemeal insights hamper efforts.

Chemical Processing is doing its part to help you improve process safety. For instance, we partner with the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center on an ongoing series of free webinars. In addition, we regularly publish safety-related content — this issue includes two such articles.

Our cover story “Turn Up Process Safety Performance,” focuses on the importance of an effective operational discipline (OD) program. Author Jim Klein stresses: “If a company isn’t satisfied with its process safety performance, a new or renewed effort on OD may represent one of the best opportunities for improvement.”

Continuing advances in safety instrumented systems offer another avenue for boosting performance, as “Hazardous Process Gets Important Improvement,” illustrates.

As I’ve mentioned before (“Process Safety Resources: Here’s a Safe Bet”), Chemical Processing publishes far more safety-related information than any other magazine in our field. That’s a deliberate decision on our part. So, you can count on regularly seeing such valuable content.

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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