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A 5-step Approach to improving Process Safety Management in the Metals industry

Published: January 17, 2022

A well-developed Process Safety Management (PSM) framework executed with a high degree of operational discipline plays a vital role in helping to prevent catastrophic incidents often caused by inadequate maintenance and safe operating limit excursions or due to the poor design of highly hazardous processes.

Yet while industries can learn lessons from each other on how to prevent such devastating low incidence, high consequence events, distinct manufacturing processes and the maturity of systems to mitigate and manage operational risk also need to be factored in.

#1. Align and integrate frameworks

Most, if not all, organisations in the metals industry have some form of safety or operational risk management practices in place. However, a robust PSM approach involves moving away from the default administrative aspect of safety and occupational hazard compliance to integrating technical processes and risk analysis into the daily work cycle. It involves developing safety frameworks that understand that the way assets are maintained and operated is critical to safety. Developing frameworks that align and integrate PSM improves the adoption of processes to reduce catastrophic hazards and help raise safety maturity levels.

#2. Don’t neglect implementation

While the need for a well-defined PSM framework is essential, the framework can soon become redundant without a clear implementation strategy. As well as establishing an understanding of what PSM can achieve, the challenge for leadership is to develop a strategy that allows the practices defined and mandated by the adopted framework to be executed with robust operational discipline. By focusing equally on definition and implementation, PSM’s ability to reduce catastrophic hazards is maximised.

#3. Equip the workforce

Once PSM is seen as core to the business and supports the workforce in achieving objectives, improved asset maintenance and operation practices tend to increase. Key to this is developing an understanding that there is a commonality between workplace safety and process safety but that different risks are involved. Process safety goes beyond compliance to acknowledging the role of using new technology to improve manufacturing and design, updating control logic or building redundancy into systems. This knowledge equips the workforce to be more in control of the risks involved and take actions that carry a higher risk reduction factor and ultimately helps to reduce catastrophic events.

#4. Take a targeted approach

Developing and implementing a PSM framework that addresses catastrophic incidents in a more defined and targeted way is essential. Not applying PSM or hazard analysis methodology across the full spectrum of potential risks and placing more focus on the identified priority risks reduces the strain on resources and maximises process safety efforts. It’s about going an inch wide and a mile deep to ensure that the risks associated with those critical catastrophic events identified are targeted and mitigated more effectively.

#5. Remove implementation roadblocks

PSM should not be limited to certain functions but rolled out and integrated appropriately across all levels of the organisation. Removing implementation roadblocks ensures everybody within the organisation is clear on their role in maintaining the integrity of equipment and processes that prevent an incident and how each function impacts the identified priority risks. In addition, emphasising how actions on a day-to-day basis improve risk mitigation raises awareness and prevents priority risks from simply becoming another set of procedures.

At its most basic level, safe and reliable operations inherently mean that a company manages processes within its operational limits. Understanding what those limits are and that they are based on sound design principles is key to the metals industry adopting an effective PSM framework that reduces disruption to the supply and value chain and, importantly, avoids failures that result in catastrophic incidents. The aim now is for the metals industry to reach a level of maturity that moves PSM from an initiative to become a part of daily working life that strengthens operational resilience.

It is vital to assess the factors that allow it to reach a level of safety maturity that manages and mitigates operational risk across the entire asset life cycle.

Four lessons to learn:

As the metals industry evolves, it is vital to assess the factors that allow it to reach a level of safety maturity that manages and mitigates operational risk across the entire asset life cycle. Creating a PSM framework that better reflects the unique aspects of the metals industry and is implemented accordingly can help reduce catastrophic events and enhance overall operational resilience that is key to developing a sustainable industry.

LESSON #1: Review and clarify PSM’s role:

Gaining a clear understanding of PSM’s role and how it fits into the overall safety landscape is at the core of developing a successful PSM framework. Key to success is ensuring it is integrated into the business strategy through a deeper understanding of how PSM can help manage and mitigate catastrophic events and its beneficial impact on the wider business overall.

LESSON #2: Develop an implementation strategy:

It’s essential that each set of mandated requirements in mitigating the priority risks identified by the PSM framework also has a corresponding set of clearly defined actions. Executing such actions with a high degree of operational discipline will retain the integrity of the PSM framework’s mandated requirements.

LESSON #3: Focus on priority risks:

Avoid the temptation of applying detailed PSM practices to all risk eventualities as this weakens effectiveness and depletes limited resources. Developing a risk-based approach that targets catastrophic process safety-related events ensures efforts and resources are focused on material hazards.

LESSON #4: Move from reactive to proactive:

PSM practices that focus on reaction to a catastrophic event is inevitably less effective than one which encourages a workforce to be forward-thinking. The industry cannot afford to wait for these events to materialise before actively mitigating the associated risks. Developing a framework that promotes daily proactive decisions creates a working environment that controls risks before they occur.

As we go forward, companies in the metals industry should consider the above lessons and make the necessary changes to strengthen their PSM framework so that catastrophic events are managed and mitigated more effectively. In addition, PSM’s benefits are leveraged to improve business resilience and sustainability.

Jaco Pieterse

Jaco Pieterse

Principal Consultant - OpEx