A Case Study Demonstrating a Successful Plant Leadership Transition That Improved Process Safety Performance

  • Type:
    Conference Presentation
  • Conference Type:
    AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety
  • Presentation Date:
    August 20, 2020
  • Duration:
    20 minutes
  • Skill Level:
  • PDHs:

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Process safety leadership at the plant level comes from understanding the importance of process safety, setting the tone, providing adequate resources, demonstrating the right behaviors, engaging everyone all levels, and talking with everyone every day—especially those on the shop floor—in a trusting, nurturing, and participative environment. The paper presents a case study showing how a gradual change in a plant manager’s management style from a top-down approach to involve more of the workforce resulted in a significant improvement in the plant’s process safety performance, and how these improvements were lost upon his transfer when succeeding plant managers returned to the command-and-control management style.

Publically available data on injuries (US OSHA TRC, Total Recordable Case rate) and environmental releases (US EPA TRI, Toxic Release Inventory program) over nineteen years show how the plant manager, even under severe cost-control pressures and three forced layoffs (from 1,300 to 900 personnel), used the trusting, partnering work environment to sustain the plant’s process safety performance. He never compromised the plant’s process safety programs during these tough times. Although the US economy soured even more after he left, the business pressures forced the new plant managers to cut or curtail even more plant efforts, including capital improvement projects and essential maintenance on critical equipment.

Data from many years after the plant manager left show that the communications were sustained within the shop floor personnel, with the shift and front-line supervisors keeping the personal safety metrics acceptable (e.g., low TRCs). However, poor environmental performance was reflected in the dramatic increase in the amount of toxic materials released each year after the manager left (i.e., increased TRIs). The focus on keeping the hazardous materials in the pipes had been lost. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time when disaster struck, resulting in several significant toxic releases with a fatality, injuries, and the attention of the US Chemical Safety and Hazards Review Board (CSB). The CSB investigation provided additional evidence of weaknesses in the plant’s process safety management program, especially in weaknesses in the plant’s CCPS RBPS Asset Integrity and Reliability Element and, in particular, its Inspection, Testing, and Preventive Maintenance (ITPM) program on critical safeguards.

This paper will focus on this effective process safety leadership approach, describing where everyone: 1) benefits from the interactions; 2) builds and sustains relationships across all levels in the organization; 3) and provides a culture which is safe for everyone to share information, ask questions, and make appropriate decisions directly related to their work. Improved communications, principally through conversations each and every day, has proven that to improve business performance, everyone must understand why process safety is important for their and their colleague’s livelihoods and becomes engaged in their process safety-related efforts.

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