Guest Column - Richard Piette
Culture club: process safety management experts bring Canada up to snuff
By Richard Piette
I am fortunate to have been involved in process safety management (PSM) for the past seven years. But my participation in this critical system — defined as the application of management principles and systems to the identification, understanding and control of process hazards to prevent process-related injuries and accidents — began for all the wrong reasons.
On March 23, 2005, 15 people were killed and more than 170 others injured in a fire and explosion at BP’s Texas City, Texas oil refinery. In the wake of that terrible incident, my employer took me into our downstream technical office and made me a process safety advisor servicing all of our plants. My role description, put simply, was to find out “What is PSM and what do we have to do about it?”
It felt like I was back in school: reading many books, understanding current issues and starting to set plans for the future. But I knew this was not enough and started looking for industry contacts that could help me set the right direction. This was my first foray into the Process Safety Management Division (PSMD) of the CSChE, and I haven’t looked back. The things I have learned from the experience and diversity of this group have been instrumental to my personal development and the application of PSM within my organization.
But does all this expertise really matter? No one can claim that applying PSM to achieve the goal of preventing injuries does not add value. The challenge lies in the commitment and continuous improvement cycles required to keep PSM alive within your organization. Ultimately, the successful application of PSM relies on achieving a culture change that accepts, promotes and embeds PSM practices and principles within the very fabric of the organization. The payoff is that an effective PSM program has been proven to lower the frequency of incidents and increase employee morale and confidence within the workplace.
Before getting involved in PSM, I specialized in the development and implementation of advanced process control systems, the main objective of which was to improve product quality and production. Safety was an important consideration in the design but was typically seen as a constraint in achieving the main objective. I know now that the design would have been different if a PSM approach had been applied. I would now approach the task with safety top-of-mind and then push the design to achieve the other objectives. This may seem like a small deviation, but it’s an example of how people can behave differently when safety is seen as a value within an organization, particularly when it is not subject to changes in priorities or management styles. The ability to lead an organization in safety is key to a good PSM program.
Today, Canada is challenged by the absence of clear expectations on PSM. When you dig deep, you can find references that infer good management practices and hint at effective PSM. You are left with the concepts, practices and legislation from other countries to model your own organization’s PSM.
The PSMD has recognized this gap and has been working hard over the last decade to provide guidance and tools to better the application of PSM within organizations. The culmination of this work is found in the new PSM Standard that is being released this fall. This Standard helps to set a common foundation for success across all industries within Canada. This Standard is the model that industry needs to help prevent future process-related incidents.
View the new PSM Standard at www.cheminst.ca/PSM. Richard Piette is the 2010-2012 Chair of the PSM Division of the CSChE and leads PSM implementation for Suncor Energy.
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