Introduction to Stakeholder Outreach

ELEMENT OVERVIEW

Having good relationships with appropriate stakeholders over the life of a facility is one of the five elements in the RBPS pillar of committing to process safety. This chapter describes a process for identifying, engaging, and maintaining good relationships with appropriate external stakeholder groups (outreach); the attributes of an outreach system; and the steps an organization might take to implement outreach. Section 7.2 describes the key principles and essential features of a management system for this element. Section 7.3 lists work activities that support these essential features and presents a range of approaches that might be appropriate for each work activity, depending on perceived risk, resources, and organizational culture. Sections 7.4 through 7.6 include (1) ideas for improving the effectiveness of management systems and specific programs that support this element, (2) metrics that could be used to monitor this element, and (3) management review issues that may be appropriate for outreach.

What Is It?

Stakeholder outreach (outreach) is a process for (1) seeking out individuals or organizations that can be or believe they can be affected by company operations and engaging them in a dialogue about process safety, (2) establishing a relationship with community organizations, other companies and professional groups, and local, state, and federal authorities, and (3) providing accurate information about the company and facility’s products, processes, plans, hazards, and risks. This process ensures that management makes relevant process safety information available to a variety of organizations. This element also encourages the sharing of relevant information and lessons learned with similar facilities within the company and with other companies in the industry group. Finally, the outreach element promotes involvement of the facility in the local community and facilitates communication of information and facility activities that could affect the community.

Why Is It Important?

Sharing information with industry peers will promote better process safety for everyone. Sharing information in proactive ways with community and government stakeholders builds trust and commitment. Trust supports a facility’s license to operate, and regulators may be more willing to work with the facility to resolve issues when they arise. The more the public understands the facility’s process safety systems, the more confident they will feel that the company takes every reasonable precaution to protect public safety and the environment. By promoting openness and responsiveness, an effective outreach program will increase all stakeholders’ confidence in the company.

Where/When Is It Done?

Information sharing and relationship building occurs (1) during employees’ community activities, such as speaking to school groups, service clubs, and senior centers, (2) during planned events, such as industry conferences and community meetings, and (3) when episodic events such as incidents and regulatory inspections occur. Events involving the subject facility, other company facilities, or other facilities in the same industry can place the spotlight upon a company. In addition, many companies routinely sponsor volunteer community activities, such as school activities, neighborhood cleanups, beautification efforts, historic preservation, “greenspace” improvements, and plant tours that also have a desirable relationship-nurturing effect.

Who Does It?

Any person who is in a position to convey information or an impression of the company is a potential communicator. Key personnel include not only those having management responsibility, but also people who are in routine contact with the community, such as phone operators, receptionists, or security guards. Communications training for key outreach personnel should prepare them for a wide scope of outreach activities ranging from planned events to a press conference in the aftermath of an incident. Keep in mind, however, that appropriate communication and legal personnel should be consulted in the design and execution of the outreach program in order to protect confidential business information. Facilities with solid process safety cultures will generally have more performance-based outreach
procedures, allowing trained employees to use good judgment in communicating with stakeholder groups. Facilities with an evolving or uncertain process safety culture may require more prescriptive communication procedures, more frequent training, and greater command and control management system features to ensure good public risk communication discipline.

What Is the Anticipated Work Product?

The main products of an outreach system are successful communications with relevant stakeholders that build trust and good will. A reservoir of favorable stakeholder opinion can be an invaluable resource when adverse events or conflicts occur. Ancillary products include communication plans, messages, tools, brochures, training materials, and records. Outputs of the outreach element can also be used to facilitate the performance of other elements. For example, understanding the community concerns and participating in local emergency planning committee activities can help provide inputs to the ongoing improvement of the facility emergency response plan developed as part of the emergency element.

How Is It Done?

Companies train key personnel to interact with important stakeholder groups during planned events and provide resources for all employees to use in their everyday encounters with the public. Crisis communication and outreach training is provided to senior management to help deal with episodic events. Higher risk situations usually dictate a greater need for formality and thoroughness in the implementation of the outreach element. Conversely, companies having lower risk situations may appropriately decide to pursue outreach activities in a less rigorous fashion. In the case of the outreach element, risk takes on a twofold meaning: (1) the risk of experiencing an incident and (2) the risk of experiencing an adverse stakeholder reaction as a result of a process safety issue at the facility or other facilities within the company or industry. A higher risk situation may demand a more formal risk communication program that provides detailed information to stakeholders and keeps them updated. In a lower risk situation, a general community outreach policy, via informal practices by trained key employees, may be sufficient.