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Published: 17th October 2023

Understanding Process Safety: The Key to a Safe and Efficient Workplace

Cogent Skills Associate Laurence Hilton reflects on the key principles of process safety, their importance on high hazard sites and who in the organisation is potentially liable if it all goes wrong
Laurence Hilton
Cogent Skills Associate

Regardless of the role we have, where we work or the industry we are in, we all have some experience of process and we all have some experience of safety.

Process safety is a disciplined framework for maintaining the operating systems and processes involved with hazardous substances. It deals with the prevention and control of events that have the potential to release hazardous materials and energy.

But the level of understanding we have and our experience in applying it will inevitably vary. What’s more, within an organisation the operational role of each person in the chain and their actions can affect the overall outcome of an event – so it’s worthwhile reflecting on the first principles of process safety.

The assessment of hazard and risk associated with process safety is the responsibility of the employer following legislation such as the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 2015.

COMAH is a guide to preventing major accidents and minimising their impact on people and the environment. Employers must follow these regulations and ensure compliance for a safer work environment – and there are legally binding requirements which apply to all relevant workplaces.

If we think of process safety in a similar way to our bodily senses, we can begin to understand more deeply how we can use it to safely navigate more complex things. For example, our senses help us to detect changes in the world around us; we use risk assessments about hazardous process in a similar way to how we use our eyes, ears and noses in our day-to-day processes and activities.

However, while occupational safety is usually limited to individual, low-risk events such as a slip or fall – incidents that could generally result in minor injuries. Process safety is concerned with things going wrong, leading to consequences which are potentially much more severe.

In such events there is a high risk of major injuries or even multiple deaths; while such incidents might be rare, they carry with them high consequences should one occur.

Process safety is a blend of engineering and safety – two fields which have been brought together to help understand the consequences of what can go wrong. But perhaps even more importantly, it considers the out-of-control process.

To achieve this, all processes must be managed in order to reduce high risk and achieve as much control as possible over the process. This should ensure that, should things go wrong, several safeguards are in place to give warnings of potential problems which could result in a major incident. This could be something simple such as alarm system or remote shut off valves being deployed, but such small things can have a tremendous impact on the safety of workers.

Given how important it is to maintain safety, it’s useful to consider specific ways an organisation can support its staff and set the overall tone for the workplace.

As an employer, a company should provide the appropriate training and information to all employees – regardless of role or seniority – so they are aware of their responsibilities. It’s good practice to maintain records of training for a number of reasons, including demonstrating how any employer fulfils its duty of care.

In addition to this, a company’s leaders should have a detailed understanding of process safety: when on a site tour or an inspection, they need to be able to ask and answer the crucial questions on the safety of the production lifecycle, related byproducts, safety systems in place, potential hazards and the procedures to deal with them.

Indeed, beyond maintaining staff safety there are a number of important objectives which are met when a serious focus is placed on this area.

This includes investing in staff, ensuring compliance with legislation, sharing best practice, clearly defining staff roles and responsibilities, maintaining relevant training and comprehensive record-keeping – all of which among the cornerstones of a properly run site or workplace.

This is why everyone working in a given site or facility should be aware of process safety requirements – and the actions they should take should the need arise to prevent or contain the incident. Their safety and the safety of everyone around them could depend on it.

Click here to find out more about Cogent Skills’ Process Safety Training programmes.

Cogent Skills has been supporting high hazard industries with their Process Safety requirements for more than a decade. For an informal discussion about how we can help your business, contact our team on 01325 740900 or at [email protected].

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Cogent Skills is sector based, working with companies from across the Science and Technology Industries embracing Life Sciences, Industrial Sciences and Nuclear.
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