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1-3 Safety Culture

A safety culture is an essential part of any safety program, including process safety, laboratory safety, personal safety, or any safety program. Table 1-1 provides the CCPS’s definition of process safety culture. Almost all accidents, whether large or small, can be attributed to a failure of safety culture, since the safety culture is such an essential and over-reaching part of any safety program.

Klein and Vaughen1 provide a very extensive discussion of safety culture. They define safety culture as “the normal way things are done at a facility, company, or organization, reflecting expected organizational values, beliefs, and behaviors, that set the priority, commitment and resource levels for safety programs and performance.” The same authors also provide a list of essential features for safety culture, as derived from the CCPS sources; these features are shown in Table 1-4.

Mannan et al.2 found the following important elements of a best-in-class safety program: leadership; culture and values; goals, policies, and initiative; organization and structure; employee engagement and behaviors; resource allocation and performance management; systems, standards, and processes; metrics and reporting; continuous learning; and verification and auditing. These elements are similar to those provided in Table 1-4.

Table 1-4 Essential Features of Safety Culture

  • Establish process safety as a core value.

    Core values are deeply held beliefs that are beyond compromise.

    Establish process safety as a core value in vision and mission statements, by clear and constant communication.

    Implement cultural activities that reinforce desired beliefs and behaviors, such as beginning all meetings with a safety moment.

  • Provide strong leadership.

    Strong process safety leadership must be based on:

    Understanding and valuing process safety.

    Sharing personal commitment with others by displaying desired behaviors.

    Providing resources.

    Involving and supporting safety personnel.

    Consistently considering risk management in day-to-day decision making.

  • Establish and enforce high standards of performance.

    Provide clear and consistent expectations, including in annual individual performance reviews.

    Follow safety systems and operating procedures without tolerating intentional shortcuts or other violations of requirements.

  • Document the process safety culture emphasis and approach.

    Document safety culture core values, expectations, responsibilities, and accountabilities, including mechanisms for periodically evaluating and sustaining a strong culture.

  • Maintain a sense of vulnerability.

    Provide systems and training to:

    Develop awareness and respect for process hazards and potential process incidents to prevent complacency.

    Ensure appropriate sensitivity to operations, including recognition of possible warning signs.

    Ensure effective incident investigations.

    Provide records of historical incidents.

  • Empower individuals to successfully fulfill their responsibilities.

    Ensure personnel are trained in all aspects of their roles.

    Provide personnel with appropriate resources so they can complete their work correctly and safely.

    Empower personnel to stop the work if they are concerned about safety.

  • Defer to expertise.

    Create leadership positions where knowledgeable safety personnel have access to and credible input for decision-making processes.

    Involve other safety professionals as appropriate.

  • Ensure open and effective communications.

    Communicate consistently and clearly on process safety goals, activities, and accomplishments.

    Provide systems for reporting of safety-related issues requiring timely response.

  • Establish a questioning/learning environment.

    Provide risk management systems to:

    Identify process hazards and prevent process incidents.

    Include mechanisms for learning from experience.

    Ensure input from all personnel.

    Maintain critical knowledge.

  • Foster mutual trust.

    Create an environment based on consistent management principles where personnel are comfortable:

    Participating in activities.

    Communicating with leadership and with each other honestly.

    Reporting mistakes.

    Making decisions without fear.

  • Provide timely response to process safety issues and concerns.

    Provide systems for:

    Reporting process safety concerns.

    Following up and completing action items in a timely manner.

    Communicating action resolutions to demonstrate consistent application of process safety principles to avoid credibility problems.

  • Provide continuous monitoring of performance.

    Develop key performance indicators for process safety and safety culture.

    Periodically review and evaluate performance indicators to identify continuous improvement opportunities.

    Share results with affected personnel.

Sources: AICHE Center for Chemical Process Safety. Guidelines for Risk Based Process Safety (New York, NY: Wiley/AICHE, 2007); W. L. Frank. “Process Safety Culture in the CCPS Risk Based Process Safety Model.” Process Safety Progress, 26 (2007): 203–208; James A. Klein and Bruce K. Vaughen. Process Safety: Key Concepts and Practical Approaches (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017).

In November 2010, Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, testified before the National Commission on the disastrous BP Deepwater oil spill. He stated:

A commitment to safety therefore should not be a priority but a value—a value that shapes decision making all the time, at every level. Every company desires safe operations—but the challenge is to translate this desire into action. The answer is not found only in written rules, standards, and procedures. While these are important and necessary, they alone are not enough. The answer is ultimately found in a company’s culture—the unwritten standards and norms that shape mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors. Companies must develop a culture in which the value of safety is embedded in every level of the workforce, reinforced at every turn, and upheld above all other considerations. … [A] culture of safety has to be born within the organization. You cannot buy culture. You have to make it yourself. … [M]ake no mistake: Creating a strong sustainable culture is a long process.

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