Ian Travers explains how you can help your senior team understand and fulfil its duty to safety
WHO has the biggest impact on process safety in your organisation? Is it the operators and shift managers who ensure manufacture continues smoothly on a daily basis, the engineers who continually strive for improvements in process integrity, efficiency and effectiveness, or the senior leaders who set the culture and direction of the organisation?
In reality, all of these people and more have a role to play in managing process safety, and each has to recognise just how important their influence is on the continued safe operation of a major hazard organisation. Of course, it can be difficult to help others – especially those senior leaders with a non-technical background – to recognise the effects that their decisions can have on process safety.
From my experience of meeting with non-technical senior leaders, it’s crucial not to use the sort of niche, technical terms that you might freely exchange with your peers. If your audience doesn’t understand the jargon that you’re using, then frankly the discussion will be useless to them. Effective communication is about the audience not the author. Believe me, this isn’t he time to be getting out your Swiss Cheese model. You need to tailor your message in non-technical language.
I hope this article finds its way into the hands of senior business leaders, and if you are looking at ways to get their attention, I would urge you to pop it into your bosses’ inboxes. If this article has found its way to you and you’re a non-technical reader then it’s important to clarify that by ‘process safety’ I mean the way in which major hazard risks are managed and controlled, rather than risks to occupational or personal safety. I’m not talking about systems to prevent slips, trips or falls but rather much larger incidents that not only harm health but can cause multiple fatalities, as well as huge environmental, financial, and reputational damage.
We mustn’t forget that major hazard businesses have the potential for catastrophic impact. The exploration and production of oil and gas, the manufacture and storage of chemicals and petrochemicals, and the generation of energy involve complex processes with in-built intrinsic hazards that need careful management. The measures your business needs to contain such hazards in a controlled way are equally as complex. This requires a systematic approach to managing risk, based on having several layers of protection to guard against each process risk, and robust emergency arrangements in case the worst does happen.
Senior leaders need to recognise how important their influence is on the safe running of hazardous processes or the execution of a major project, whether the activity is located on their doorstep, or on the other side of the world. It might not be immediately obvious for example, what effect reducing the number of maintenance hours, or extending the frequency of inspections of critical process plant or delaying shutdowns or turnarounds can have on the safety of a plant, but the future consequences can be extreme.
The need for this recognition from the Board becomes especially pertinent if you reflect on the investigations into a number of high profile accidents such as the explosions and fires at BP’s Texas City oil refinery and the Buncefield fuel storage depot in the UK, which identified various technical failings, but also how shortcomings in leadership by senior executives contributed to the incidents.
Addressing these shortcomings is not easy, as while it is easy enough to focus on any number of training courses available for engineers, it can be much harder getting the attention of senior leaders of major hazard organisations; despite the fact that understanding the risk from a major accident is just as important as understanding every other type of business risk, if not more so.
The good news is that industry and the regulator have developed recognised training standards in process safety leadership and process safety management for everyone from front-line operators to the chief executive of a major hazard organisation
The prime offering coming from this partnership is a one-day programme, Process Safety Leadership for Senior Executives. The benefits of this training are clear:
- The course is dedicated and tailored to senior executives and provides a means for them to become more effective process safety management leaders.
- It puts PSM, and risk into context – enabling critical business decisions to be made in consideration of the key aspects of managing such significant risk.
- It sets a clear, repeatable and testable standard for delivering training.
- It is drawn up by industry for industry with the regulator’s endorsement and input.
- It is delivered by accredited training providers.
When we first developed these standards in 2012, I truly believed this to be a ground-breaking piece of work. It filled that gap in training for senior leaders and has been proven to be appropriate for all executive boards, no matter what size the company or where in the world they are located. In fact, since we established these industry recognised training standards, over 1,200 business leaders have been engaged in the training programme, and a total of 10,000 business leaders, managers and operators have benefited from an increased awareness, knowledge and understanding of what good practice in process safety management looks like.
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