Using Assessments to Improve Process Safety Culture

Safety and Health Division
AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety
April 30, 2013 - 1:30pm-2:00pm
It is generally accepted that companies managing highly hazardous chemicals require a strong process safety culture and process safety management systems to minimize process safety incidents. These aspects of the organization are embodied in conduct of operations and operational discipline (COO/OD). Since all human organizations are imperfect, there are always opportunities for improvement in culture and management systems. Deficiencies in COO/OD can lead to a decline in the quality of an organization’s process safety culture and an increase in the likelihood of process safety incidents. A process safety assessment is one tool especially suited for identifying and correcting organizational safety culture deficiencies. Both AIChE/CCPS and API offer recent guidance documents on how to conduct effective assessments of process safety management systems.

The investigation and evaluation of organizational culture is the province of the social sciences, especially psychology and organizational behavior. However, other fields of study can make useful contributions to our understanding of how to motivate and sustain an effective process safety culture. 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. For example, game theory suggests that the identification and communication of positive outcomes from a process safety assessment is just as important as the identification and correction of deficiencies.

This paper first introduces some basic concepts from game theory and applies them to the methodology of process safety assessments. A conceptual framework for the implementation of the process safety assessment process with balanced positive and corrective actions will be described. Then game theory concepts are used to demonstrate the following key points:

  • The importance of random sampling for observations and reviews
  • Praise in public: the significance of communicating/publicizing positive outcomes (compliance with process safety program policies and procedures) across the organization
  • Criticize in private: the value of correcting deficiencies privately with education on proper adherence to procedures

Assessment guidelines typically focus on the negative outcomes - correcting deficiencies. This paper argues that the assessment process must also use the positive outcomes - the compliance successes - to provide positive reinforcement to the process safety culture. Implementing this strategy is consistent with pragmatic management practices and is supported by empirical studies in behavioral science. Finally, this paper discusses how these ideas fit within the framework of AIChE/CCPS and API guidance documents.

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