Leadership – the key to process safety

Judith Hackitt Chair of the UK Health and Safety Executive. Judith Hackitt Chair of the UK Health and Safety Executive.

At a special breakfast presentation, which was recently hosted by the Chemical & Allied Industries’ Association (CAIA,) the importance of process safety in the boardroom and leadership from the top was emphasised to an audience of senior executives and managers from across the chemical and allied industries.

The key note speaker was Judith Hackitt, who has a wealth of knowledge of the chemical and process industries, process safety and the health and safety challenges that industry has to deal with in their everyday operations.  She currently chairs the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE,) the government agency for regulating workplace health and safety.  Hackitt’s presentation highlighted the importance of having a clear understanding of the need for process safety leadership, the role of leadership in creating/setting the culture, risk ownership and management, and the role of company boards in process safety.  She called for a change in the mindset and culture at the very top of organisations towards process safety, starting with the boardroom.  Key themes that emerged from the presentation included the role of the regulator, leadership in process safety, risk ownership, open communication and safety as a core value, not a priority.

Speaking of the leadership challenge ahead, she said, “Boards who do not focus on process safety have a very serious gap in their corporate risk register and are potentially taking a gamble with the survival of their business.  The leader who asks to understand what the process’s vulnerabilities are and how they need to be addressed will create a very different climate in their organisation.” Hackitt continued that process safety knowledge and competence should be recognised as fundamental to anyone who takes on a position of responsibility within the chemical industry.

Discussions served as a reminder to executives and senior managers that the absence of conventional safety accidents and injuries in an organisation should not, in itself, be taken as a positive assurance of an overall good performance in process safety and that process safety performance should be measured by using appropriate and effective  leading and lagging indicators.

Signatories of the Responsible Care initiative are committed to the safe operation of their plants and processes.  Responsible Care provides a Process Safety Code, a Management Practice Standard with guidance on how companies should take action to prevent major explosions, fires and accidental releases during their manufacturing, processing, handling and onsite storage of hazardous chemicals. However, for this to be successful, an interdisciplinary approach should be adopted so that process safety is integrated into the areas of management leadership, technology, facilities and employees.

Louise Lindeque, Responsible Care Manager, CAIA said, “Process Safety is an important component of Responsible Care.  CAIA recognises the importance of encouraging dialogue and ideas around issues pertaining to process safety at the quarterly Process Safety Forums that meet in Johannesburg and Durban.”

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