Introduction to Process Safety Culture | AIChE

Introduction to Process Safety Culture

Element Overview

Developing, sustaining, and enhancing the organization’s process safety culture is one of five elements in the RBPS pillar of committing to process safety.  This element describes what process safety culture means, what the attributes of a sound culture are, and how organizations might begin to enhance their own culture.  Section 3.2 describes the key principles and essential features of a management system for this element.  Section 3.3 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 3.4 through 3.6 include (1) ideas to improve the effectiveness of management systems and specific programs that support this element, (2) metrics that could be used to monitor this element, and (3) issues that may be appropriate for management review.

What is it?

Process safety culture has been defined as, “the combination of group values and behaviors that determine the manner in which process safety is managed” .  More succinct definitions include, “How we do things around here,” “What we expect here,” and “How we behave when no one is watching.” In an especially sound culture, deeply held values are reflected in the group’s actions, and newcomers are expected to endorse these values in order to remain part of the group.

Why is it Important?

Investigations of catastrophic events, such as the Longford gas plant explosion and the Piper Alpha disaster, have identified common process safety culture weaknesses that are often factors in other serious incidents. The values of the group (e.g., corporation, facility, shift team) can help shape the attitudes of the individual, which in turn, play a significant role in determining individual behaviors.  A sound culture provides its members with the values necessary for understanding why strict adherence to procedures (one aspect of operating discipline) is the right thing to do.

Where/When is it Done?

Efforts to nurture and sustain a sound process safety culture must occur everywhere, from the boardroom to the production floor.  Organizations that have determined the need for significant enhancement of their culture should take calculated action, recognizing that this is a long-term effort that will require dedicated resources for as long as the organization exists.  While the behaviors and attitudes associated with a sound culture, once established, should become the norm for members of the organization, staff turnover will continually require the instilling of group values and attitudes in new members of the organization.

Who Does it? 

Everyone in the organization has a role in process safety culture.  The leadership of an organization has the primary responsibility for identifying the need for, and fostering, cultural change and for sustaining a sound culture once it is established.  However, similar to the concept of safety as a line responsibility, the responsibility for fostering and maintaining a sound culture cascades down through the organization. 

What Is the Anticipated Work Product?

The anticipated work product is a sound culture that (1) incorporates the features discussed in Section 3.2 and (2) maximizes the effectiveness of all other RBPS elements and the overall safety management system.

How Is It Done?

Successful cultural change requires that expectations of new attitudes and behaviors be communicated and reinforced, that these new attitudes and behaviors demonstrate successful results, and that the members of the organization recognize and appreciate the resulting successes (Ref. 3.2).

Acceptable behaviors must be modeled at all levels of the organization through leadership by example.  The rationale for, and anticipated benefits of, expected behaviors must be made evident to all.  Positive reinforcement and accountabilities for expected behaviors must be clear and certain.