Meet Process Engineer Sara Catherine Floyd

49/49   in the series Meet the Process Engineers

Welcome to the latest in a series of AIChE blog posts profiling process engineers, a diverse group of professionals spanning multiple industries and regions. In this series, we profile process engineers who work in a wide range of fields, including petrochemicals, pharma, bulk chemicals, food, or any process-intensive industry.

Are you a member and process engineer interested in being profiled? We’d love to hear from you via this volunteer opportunity. Please also check out our online discussion group specifically for process engineers. You can find out about these initiatives and join our efforts by visiting aiche.org/process-engineers.

This month, we introduce you to Sara Catherine Floyd, chemical process safety engineer at Georgia Pacific. She discusses the path that led to her career in process safety engineering, overcoming challenges, and the importance of her work.

Tell us a bit about your work as a process engineer.

I am a chemical process safety engineer with Georgia Pacific at one of their containerboard paper mills. My primary responsibility is to help maintain a safe work environment and to manage the chemical safety program, ensuring compliance with federal and internal safety standards. 

A typical day consists of reviewing performance indicators and sitting in on project reviews to provide safety input. I also spend time preparing for hazard analysis revalidations a few months in advance, coordinating with area leaders and engineers to ensure efficient and effective meetings. My role is a fine balance between being reactive (taking action after a near miss or safety event) and proactive (ensuring concerns are addressed before anything happens).

Understanding the process is key to process safety because then you can better understand the controls needed to protect employees and the environment.

Why did you become a process engineer?

I started my career in appliance manufacturing with an internship in process safety management. After college graduation, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career, but I knew as part of my long-term goals, I wanted to work in safety within a chemical-intensive environment.

I worked in product quality for two years, and to continue my education in safety, I began a master’s program at Auburn University with a focus in health and safety. Soon after, an opportunity opened up for me to work with GP at one of their paper mills. Ever since transitioning into the safety role, I’ve really enjoyed learning more about chemical safety and process safety.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your role as a process engineer?

I think my biggest challenge starting out was understanding the equipment and processes. My previous work dealt with products and changes that were tangible, but with chemicals, you don’t always get to physically see what is happening. Understanding the process is key to process safety because then you can better understand the controls needed to protect employees and the environment.

How is your work as a process safety engineer critical to your particular job assignment or industry?

Anyone can tell you how vital safety is to creating a work environment where people feel empowered to do their best. It is especially important in manufacturing and in the chemical industry. Safety is the main priority of companies and my work is critical to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment.

What do you think is most important about what you do as a process engineer?

One thing that I always keep at the front of my mind is how important it is that our employees make it home to their families at the end of the day. Working in manufacturing is difficult, and working with chemicals has its own unique set of hazards that can occur. It is extremely important to me to do everything I can to identify hazards and risks in the work environment and to reduce our employees’ exposure to those risks. 

Connect with Sara on AIChE Engage

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Process Engineer Perspective Talks (PEP Talks)

AIChE has launched a new series of virtual presentations called Process Engineer Perspective (PEP) Talks, which will feature perspectives of process engineers on topics relevant to other process engineers. Join us every second Thursday of the month to get to know your fellow process engineers. Attendance is free.

Join the PEP Talks.