Process safety is different from the conventional safety, more commonly known as Occupational Safety. Occupational safety is a multidisciplinary field, concerned with the safety, health, and welfare of people at work. It is sometimes referred to as “hard hat safety” due to its concern with topics such as personal protective equipment (PPE), noise exposure, slips, trips, and falls.

On the other hand, process safety focusses on preventing and minimizing the consequences of releasing hazardous chemicals that may be toxic, reactive, flammable, explosive, or a combination of these properties.

Process safety management is more complex than occupational safety and is also more expensive. Process safety incidents happen at a lower frequency but have severe consequences; occupational safety incidents happen at a higher frequency but with lower severity. This is often a problem as mistakenly, people focus on the highest occurrences of incidents, rather than focus on the most serious ones. Reducing the no. of occupational safety incidents gives a false impression that safety is progressing well and under control. But nothing can be farther from truth.

For example people often use this to explain why the BP Texas City refinery explosion and fire, which sadly killed 15 people and injured 180 more, occurred. It was seen that there was too great a focus on reducing the high number of occupational safety incidents, rather than the more infrequent but much more serious process safety incidents.

Needless to say, process safety as well as occupational safety are important in ensuring incident free operations. It is worth to note that the process safety management systems incorporate all elements of occupational safety such as work permit, job safety assessment, etc.

Following are the 20 PSM elements currently practiced by leading chemical companies across the world and as introduced by the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS), USA.

  1. Process safety culture
  2. Compliance with Standards
  3. Process safety Competency
  4. Workforce involvement
  5. Stakeholder outreach
  6. Process Knowledge
  7. Process Hazard analysis
  8. Operating procedures
  9. Safe work practices
  10. Asset integrity and reliability
  11. Contractor management
  12. Training and performance assurance
  13. Management of change
  14. Pre startup safety review
  15. Conduct of operations
  16. Emergency management
  17. Incident investigation
  18. Measurement and metrics
  19. Management review
  20. Auditing

Though the above 20 PSM elements are part of the risk-based process safety management systems proposed by CCPS, it is important to evaluate the risks arising from not implementing these elements and then prioritize PSM elements based on risk, resources, time schedule, etc. This prioritized list will be different for each site based on the culture of the work force and management, systems and procedures that are in place, etc.

Once such a gap analysis has been done and the prioritized PSM elements for each site are identified and frozen, a detailed implementation plan can be worked out which will be a mix of the following:

  • Training on all the PSM elements to the stakeholders
  • Development of standards and procedures for all the PSM elements
  • Audits and supervision for compliance
  • Development of appropriate leading and lagging indicators
  • Participation in the progress review and suggesting measures for course correction
  • Support for getting necessary resources for PSM implementation

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