(93b) Young, Inexperienced, and Learning: How Process Safety Hit Home While Attending a Conference | AIChE

(93b) Young, Inexperienced, and Learning: How Process Safety Hit Home While Attending a Conference


Weckwerth, A. M. - Presenter, Burns & McDonnell

Many professionals believe you will only understand process safety if you have seen incidents firsthand. Some professionals believe firsthand experience is more valuable than reading or hearing about the experience. I believe they are right. Does that mean if these incidents haven’t happened to you that you haven’t had process safety “hit home”? Does that mean you will never gain the experience unless an incident arises? I disagree.

I have never been a plant engineer or an operator. I am under twenty-five years old and have worked for an engineering firm ever since I graduated. Even with this background, I can tell you exactly when process safety hit home for me (and I didn’t even step foot inside a chemical facility.)

The moment process safety hit home for me was when I attended my first  conference.  At the 9th Annual GCPS, I was listening to a speaker discuss the 2012 Chevron Refinery Fire. During the presentation, I first learned about the chemical safety board and their website. I was so interested in the CSB that later that night in my hotel room, I watched the CSB video animation for the 2005 BP Texas City incident. To say the least, I was stunned. How did I never hear about this 2005 incident? Was I living under a rock?

Until that day and that moment, I did not realize the importance of my career path. I did not realize that the instrumentation and controls systems I design every day could impact someone’s safety. I just was a young engineer who worked in an office. I was naïve and invincible until that moment, when suddenly I became vulnerable.

Knowledge can be obtained by listening, reading, and understanding history from the “grey hairs”, the experienced.  The younger generation doesn’t need to repeat incidents to fill the grey hairs’ shoes. We can learn from the grey hairs, but not in the same way they necessarily learned. Through collaboration and knowledge sharing, we can learn from the past. The saying “history repeats itself” does not have to exist in the world of process safety, so let’s get rid of it.

The future of process safety is in the hands of four essential parties: the younger generation, the grey hairs, the companies, and the technology. The younger generation has to be ready to learn without “living through” all the experiences. The grey hairs have to be ready to teach effectively. The companies have to be ready to support the resources and tools for communication between the generations. Finally, technology has to be a place to keep the communication strategy effective for those individuals trying to teach and learn through the years. All parties have to work together to learn from the past and not repeat it in the future.

What if my employer didn’t select me to attend the conference that year of my “Ah-Hah” moment, would I still be naïve and invincible? Hard to say, but I believe yes. Luckily, through company support and from coworkers, I was able to attend the conference that year and learn about CSB. This guided me to use technology to seek the 2005 BP Texas City animation videos which effectively communicated the situation.

I did not experience that incident firsthand; however, I know that was when process safety hit home for me. That day is when I realized my work could impact someone’s life any time they worked in a facility I designed.



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