Trish Kerin
Antarctic Peninsula

Process Safety: Embrace Challenges, Recognize Limits, Manage Risks

April 3, 2024
It's crucial to operate within our professional boundaries and effectively mitigate risks when operating beyond them.

If you’re a fan of the Process Safety with Trish & Traci podcast, you’d likely know I live in Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne isn't particularly renowned for its snowfall; in fact, I can only recall a handful of occasions when I've witnessed snow here. However, skiing remains a popular pastime for many Australians, who often venture to various ski resorts, both domestically and internationally, to indulge in this activity. Despite this, skiing has never quite captured my interest as a hobby. I've only tried skiing around five or six times. So, it's safe to say that snow isn't exactly my natural habitat.

Nonetheless, I've always dreamed of visiting or working in Antarctica. Finally, the opportunity arose for me to embark on a vacation to Antarctica about a year ago, and I eagerly seized it. I was thrilled at the prospect of exploring a land that had captivated my imagination since childhood. The moment we arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula, and when I woke up to the view of Petermann Island and a gentle snowfall outside my window, I knew my dream had come true.

In the morning, my initial adventure involved cruising in a Zodiac around the island and icebergs, observing penguin colonies. Later that afternoon, I had the opportunity to step foot on the Antarctic continent for the first time. Fully geared up in snow boots and warm attire, I was prepared for the expedition. We touched down on a rocky beach and proceeded toward the snowy terrain for a trek to witness more penguin colonies. It was during this excursion that I had a profound realization. I found myself in uncharted territory, both experientially and physically. Walking through deep, soft snow was a far cry from my usual terrain. It proved strenuous and perilous, pushing me beyond my comfort zone. This experience served as a significant lesson, teaching me to recognize and respect my personal limits.

During that vacation, I made a point of seizing every chance to go ashore to make the most of my experience. However, I proceeded with caution when navigating the snow, mindful of the risks involved. It was a clear instance of challenging myself while endeavoring to handle the trials prudently.

Despite the cold's varying effects on me, I embraced the opportunity to partake in a "polar plunge," diving into the freezing waters wearing nothing but my swimwear. The experience was both thrilling and literally breathtaking.

Know Your Professional Boundaries

As professional engineers, we are bound by a code of ethics that guides our conduct. In the June 2023 Process Safety with Trish & Traci podcast, I delved into the diverse codes of ethics observed worldwide. One consistent aspect across these codes is the imperative to operate within our scope of practice — to recognize and honor our professional boundaries. While this column revolves around my own boundaries being pushed, resulting in personal growth as I challenged myself (albeit not enough to feel entirely at ease walking in deep snow), it also resonates with how we, as professional engineers, navigate within our limits and strive to expand our capacities.

We attain the status of professional engineers once our competence and experience meet specific standards. In my case, I have undergone assessment against a set of criteria for process safety and hold the designation of Professional Process Safety Engineer. However, this designation does not imply that I can independently perform fire protection calculations, for instance. While such tasks fall within the scope of a Professional Process Safety Engineer, they exceed my current expertise and experience. My professional background encompasses a broad array of assessment and risk management activities, which I am equipped to handle as an engineer. Nevertheless, this constitutes my limit. Should I aspire to undertake additional responsibilities, I must augment my proficiency in those areas under appropriate supervision.

In our daily tasks, we often encounter new challenges. While it's important to welcome these challenges, it's equally crucial to ensure we operate within our professional boundaries and effectively mitigate risks when operating beyond them. This is paramount because, as engineers, our decisions hold significant potential consequences, some of which could be catastrophic.

Therefore, when faced with situations that push us beyond our limits, how do we ensure adequate risk management to achieve desired outcomes while also expanding our scope?

 

About the Author

Trish Kerin, Stay Safe columnist | Director, IChemE Safety Centre

Trish Kerin is an award-winning international expert and keynote speaker in process safety and the inaugural director of the IChemE Safety Centre. Trish leverages her years of engineering and varied leadership experience to help organizations improve their process safety outcomes. 

She has represented industry to many government bodies and has sat on the board of the Australian National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority. She is a Chartered Engineer, registered Professional Process Safety Engineer, Fellow of IChemE and Engineers Australia. Trish also holds a diploma in OHS, a master of leadership and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Her recent book "The Platypus Philosophy" helps operators identify weak signals. 

Her expertise has been recognized with the John A Brodie Medal (2015), the Trevor Kletz Merit Award (2018), Women in Safety Network’s Inaugural Leader of the Year (2022) and has been named a Superstar of STEM for 2023-2024 by Science and Technology Australia.

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