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SAFETY MANAGEMENT: Process Safety Management Systems

Updated on July 15, 2014
Buncefield Fire, Hertfordshire
Buncefield Fire, Hertfordshire | Source

What is Process Safety?

Process safety is the prevention of accidents and incidents that are likely to occur in a facility that uses hazardous materials for production. These accidents include fires, explosions and release of chemicals to the environment. Process safety management systems deal with the establishment of procedures for prevention and control of these accidents. Process safety is also known as chemical process safety.

The importance of process safety came to the fore after the Bhopal Gas Disaster of December 4th 1984 that took place in the Indian City of Bhopal. Over four thousand people were killed and many more injured when a chemical reaction went out of control in the Union Carbide plant that produced insecticides. The sheer numbers of lives lost in what is considered the worst industrial accident in the world prompted players in the industry to develop standards that prevent such accidents from ever occurring.

Industrial Accidents can be prevented using good process management

There have been many industrial accidents that have taken place over the years. Though these accidents did not reach the scale of the Bhopal disaster, they have been serious enough to cause death and destruction of property.

Most of the industrial accidents that have taken place have done so as a result of failures in the management systems, technology and human systems. The accidents have also been caused by unavoidable external factors such as the weather and earth quakes.

Examples of Poor Process Safety Management

Poor process management systems can lead to serious accidents due to lack of controls and standards. There have been many processes in the past that have gone dismally wrong because proper management systems had not been put in place. The following are industrial accidents that have taken place in the past and have been blamed on process management system failures:

  • Hanover Township, PA: Hydroxylamine Runaway Reaction, February 1999
  • Longford, Australia: Gas Explosion, September 1998
  • Bhopal, India: Chemical Disaster, December 4th 1984
  • Pasadena, Texas: Phillips Explosion,
  • Port Neal, Iowa: Ammonium Nitrate Explosion, December 1994
  • Feyzin, France: Boiling Liquid Vapor Explosion, 1966
  • Mexico City, Mexico: Pipe Rapture, November 1984
  • Flixborough, UK: Reactor Fires, June 1974

Those are just examples of industrial accidents that happened and which caused substantial damage to life and property.

Process Safety Management Systems

Process safety management systems must be as simple as possible and should be applied depending on the hazards involved. These systems must be continuously improved based on learned experienced and best practices from other players. For the safety management systems to be successful, they must have the following elements:

  • A Safety Culture must be in place in an organization. This culture is enhanced through disciplined adherence to established standards, training and improvement of the standards. This commitment to process safety can only be achieved if employees and other stakeholders are actively involved
  • Clarity of the system is of paramount importance if it is to succeed. A clear process for identifying hazards and analysing risk must also be in place
  • Identified risk need to be managed through clear and understandable operating procedures that encourage safe work practices. Other ways in which identified risks are managed is through proper equipment maintenance, harmonization of supplier systems, employee skills improvement and change management.
  • Continuously improvement through application of lessons learnt from past incidents and accidents. Auditing of the newly established standards helps sustain and prevent slipping to the old ways
  • Timely response to issues prevents serious accidents
  • Fostering of a learning environment where employee freely voice any safety concerns that they may have.


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