Continuing Our Process Safety Management (PSM) Journey: How Time and Technology Have Helped Change the Public's View (A Case Study for Where We Are Today and Where We Can Go Tomorrow)

Global Congress on Process Safety
April 3, 2012 - 12:00am

This paper briefly explores the history of basic PSM principles, first describing a historical view of how PSM developed into today's PSM Elements. Then this paper covers a proposed direction for PSM's future that may help address the changing nature of the public's view of the chemical industry – the public's concept of acceptable societal risk. This paper uses a case study to help describe the history of where PSM is today in context of where PSM can be in the future.

With instant access to and sharing of information through wireless communications and the internet, chemical process industry events that only made news in their local communities in the past are easily shared across the globe today. The general public has access to information on anything at any time, including highly-publicized, live, vivid and colorful images of fires, explosions and toxic releases. More people across the globe see the devastating news events with fatalities and significant environmental damage being streamed across the internet: they see other people's lives, their livelihoods and the environment being destroyed. In 2010, on the restaurant monitors in China, the first author watched - with much sadness - live images of oil bubbling into the Gulf under what used to be the Deepwater Horizon oil platform. In essence, what was “out of sight and out of mind” in the past is quite visible today. Time and technology have helped change our definition of acceptable societal risk.

In addition, sustainable and environmentally friendly (“green”) marketing trends, including adherence to Responsible Care® principles, all help shape our conscience and contribute to a new global context for risk. From the perspective of our society, what was “acceptable” then (mostly helped by our lack of awareness) is now “unacceptable” because of our acute awareness, no matter where in the world the event occurs. Hence, public outrage fueled by media frenzy helps motivate regulatory agencies to respond with more legislation designed to protect the public. Our industry does not need to be - and should not be - reactive. We must take advantage of the new technological tools available in our digital age to help us address the changing nature of the public's view, especially before another industrial crisis occurs.

We hope that this paper helps confirm the rich history of our journey to better understand and control our hazardous materials and processes (Part I), and helps propose an approach for sharing our successful process safety risk reduction techniques with the public (Part II). Both parts build on ideas noted in many sources. These include the historical aspects identified by Adrian L. Sepeda, CCPS (Chemical Engineering Progress, August 2010), and Trevor Kletz in both his autobiography, By Accident… (2000), and book of case histories, What Went Wrong? (2009). The themes noted in The World is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman (2005), and in The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson (2008) help us bridge our history to our future which focuses on applying concepts noted in Managing the Unexpected, by Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe (2007) and by Tim Elmore in Habitudes (2011).

Our goal is to help the public better understand our historical efforts and help ensure our industry's right to operate in the future. As was written over a decade ago: “…in the eyes of the public the industry is one. (Kletz, 2000)”

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