Process safety management (PSM) is a term that is most frequently used in highly hazardous industries like oil refining, gas processing and chemical manufacturing. However, PSM could apply to any industry where people are working in and around any hazardous equipment or environment. 

For example, in the power industry – gas turbines and large boilers could be managed using a PSM system. Process safety is normally associated with the technical aspects of a manufacturing or transportation operation; however, it should really be more focused on the business in general if it is going to have the right level of influence in basic decision making.

For those who may be unfamiliar, process safety management is the series of activities and thinking that support the total control of any hazardous substance, which, if there happened to be a loss of control, could render extreme personal harm and death via direct or indirect contact or inhalation.  

In simplified terms, a PSM system can be briefly defined as “a series of actions to ensure that all hazardous substances stay ‘in the pipes’ at all times.”

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) conducted a benchmark study1 that provides conclusive evidence that methodically implementing process safety provides four benefits essential to any healthy business. Two of these benefits are qualitative and as a result are somewhat subjective.  It is possible to learn about them in the way the public, shareholders, government bodies, and customers relate to any company.  

The two remaining benefits are quantitative. These have measurable impact in terms of your bottom line and company performance. All four benefits, when realized together by adhering to a sound process safety management system, combine to support the sustainability of your business through improved profitability, safety performance, quality, and environmental responsibility.   

Two qualitative benefits

  1. Corporate Responsibility Process safety helps any firm display corporate responsibility through its actions. The heart of process safety lies in regularly planning to do the right things, then doing what you planned in a correct and consistent manner. Readers of our previous columns will remember a past article where we focused on Operational Discipline (OD). We noted that OD is critical to the success of core business processes.  This criticality exists with PSM as well, “doing the right things right all the time.” It encompasses the principles, attitudes and values of individuals and of the organization and the manner in which people work that influences overall safety, quality, and operations’ effectiveness. 

    Corporate responsibility, when planned and executed correctly, leads to the second qualitative benefit – Business Flexibility.

  2. Business Flexibility Corporate responsibility as demonstrated in your process safety management program leads to a greater range of business flexibility. When you openly display responsibility through implementing an effective process safety program, your company can achieve greater freedom and self-determination. For example, your PSM planning discussions may lead to a newly identified weakness in your supply chain, which could result in either an additional supplier for your raw materials, or a new requirement for an existing supplier.  

Two quantitative benefits

  1. Risk Reduction A healthy process safety program significantly reduces the risk of catastrophic events and helps prevent the likelihood of human injury, environmental damage, and associated costs (regulatory fines, medical and legal expenses, delivery penalties, etc.)  that arises from serious process safety incidents. Although the essence of process safety focuses on preventing these catastrophic incidents, experience has demonstrated that the number of less severe incidents is also reduced.
  2. Sustained Value Process safety relates directly to enhanced shareholder value. When properly implemented, it helps ensure reliable processes that can produce high quality products, on time, and at lower cost.  These improvements allow the enterprises that make them a higher probability of sustaining value creation over time.  

Part two will focus on critical aspects of effective process safety management and both OSHA and risk-based PSM.

  1. “The Business Case for Process Safety,” 2nd edition, published by the AIChE Center for Chemical Process Safety, 2006.