Promoting Commitment to Process Safety

Safety and Health Division
AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety
April 30, 2013 - 2:30pm-3:00pm
Successful implementation of process safety management (PSM) typically requires the use of a combination of physical and procedural safeguards. Ideally, these safeguards must be maintained in a constant state of readiness throughout the life of the process facility. The management system provides the framework for maintaining and sustaining these safeguards, but the critical ingredient that ensures that the work gets done is the individual employee’s commitment to PSM. The social sciences, especially psychology and organizational behavior, can provide valuable insight towards understanding the management of employee commitment to safety.  However, other fields of study can make useful contributions to our understanding. Game theory is one of these tools.

Game theory is the scientific study of interactive decision-making with a special emphasis on understanding the interplay of conflict and cooperation between different stakeholders. Consider the interaction between the individual employee and the management organization. The objective of both management and the individual employee is to secure a strong commitment to process safety. But there are many time and attention demands placed on the individual employee, and numerous financial pressures on management. There can be a strong temptation to cut corners and sacrifice operational discipline in favor of simplifying a task and getting it done faster or cheaper. In game theory, this situation is known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is one of the simplest models of the conflicts that can arise between the goals of an individual and a social organization.

Game theory provides the tools which can allow an organization to foster cooperation between management and its employees towards the common goal of safety. Using a specific game-theoretical model known as the repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma, it is shown how cooperative behavior is the natural consequence of a balanced system of rewards and penalties. Here the term “balanced” means that both employees and their managers are subject to this system of rewards and penalties. By implementing a balanced framework for feedback, an organization can promote a commitment to process safety by fostering cooperation between both the employees and the managers.

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