Process Safety Management
This page provides an overview of the topic of Process Safety Management. Other pages at this part of our web site offer more detailed information to do with topics such as Operating Procedures, Management of Change and Prestartup Safety Reviews.
Much more detail is provided in our wide range of books and ebooks, details of which are provided in our Bookshop. Publications that are particularly relevant to those developing or running a PSM program are listed below.
We also issue "The PSM Report" on a regular basis. If you are interested in signing up for this free publication please complete the Constant Contact form at the top of this page.
The nature of Process Safety Management (PSM) can be understood by examining its component words.
Types of Safety
The word "safety" is general in nature. Hence, when it is being used in process facilities, it is useful to divide it into the following three categories:
Technical safety focuses on engineering and design decisions, and so is best applied during the early stages of a design. The term Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) is sometime used to cover technical safety issues. It is concerned with items such as gas dispersion, blast analysis and the design of temporary refuges.
Process SafetyAs already noted, Process Safety is focused on process-related events that have high consequences. The Center for Chemical Process Safety provides guidance as to what constitutes a PSM event:
Occupational safety is what is thought of when most people hear the word "safety". They think of trips, falls and the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
Process Safety / Occupational Safety
It is particularly important to distinguish between process safety and occupational safety. The Baker Panel report, written following the explosion at BP's Texas City refinery in 2005 stated,
The elements link with one another. For example, an engineer may wish to change operating conditions. First she must find out what the current operating limits are (element 6). The proposed change will then be put through the Management of Change system (element 13); which may require that a HAZOP be performed (element 7); then operating information (element 6), operating procedures (element 8) and training programs (element 12) must be updated. Before making changing conditions in the field a Readiness/Prestartup Safety Review (element 14) needs to be performed. Finally the updated program must be audited (element 19).
Features of Process Safety Management
Some of the more important features of a process safety management system include the following.
PSM is not a management program that is handed down by management to their employees and contract workers; it is a program involving everyone. The key word is participation — which is much more than just mere communication. All managers, employees and contract workers are responsible for the successful implementation of PSM. Management must organize and lead the initial effort, but the employees must be fully involved in its implementation and improvement because they are the people who know the most about how a process really operates, and they are the ones who have to implement recommendations and changes. Specialist groups, such as staff organizations and consultants can provide help in specific areas, but PSM is fundamentally a line responsibility.
PSM is an on-going activity that never ends; it is a process, not a project. Because risk can never be zero, there must always be ways of improving safety and operability. Process safety management cannot be viewed as being a one-time fix.
Process safety management programs are non-prescriptive which means that the regulations and other standards in this field generally provide very little detail as to what needs to be done. For example, the technical section of the OSHA PSM standard is only about ten pages long.
Basically, PSM rules say ‘do whatever it takes on your facility not to have accidents’. It is up to the managers and employees to determine how this should be done. There are no universally ‘correct answers’ as to what needs to be done to achieve a safe operation. What is appropriate in one location may or may not be appropriate in another. The PSM standards simply require that programs be in place, and that they be adhered to. (In this regard, PSM is similar to ISO 9000 and other quality standards, which also require that companies set their own standards, and then adhere to them.)
Programs that are non-prescriptive are, of necessity, performance-based. This means that the only true measure of success is not to have upsets or accidents. Consequently, from a theoretical point of view, it is impossible to achieve ‘compliance’. The only truly acceptable level of safety is zero accidents. Yet, no matter how well run a facility may be a zero accident rate is a theoretically unattainable goal. In spite of the fact that many companies set a target goal of ‘zero accidents’, risk can never be zero, and accidents can always happen. Indeed, if a unit operates for long enough, it is certain - statistically speaking - that there will be an accident. Hence, even though the stated PSM goal may be ‘zero accidents’, in practice, management has to determine a level for ‘acceptable safety’ and for realistic goals.
Copyright © Sutton Technical Books 2007-2012. All rights reserved
PO Box 2217