(71c) Developing a Pilot Plant Safety Culture within an Historically Laboratory Focused Work Force | AIChE

(71c) Developing a Pilot Plant Safety Culture within an Historically Laboratory Focused Work Force


While both pilot plants and laboratories are smaller than most chemical manufacturing facilities, they still present occupational and process hazards. They both also offer different challenges compared to one another. Hazards of dealing with new technologies are similar, but differences arise due to their size, the environments they are housed in, and compliance standards.

As our company grew, it made a step change by expanding from laboratory research and engineering services and added extensive pilot plant operations in a short period of time. These operations introduced a new level of hazards and required a different type of thinking, but the organization was still using laboratory methodologies to evaluate hazards and still had a laboratory mindset regarding operational procedures and protocols.

The pilot plant was staffed with people of varied backgrounds. Some had been at the company for several years and had worked in the research laboratories, and some were new hires specifically brought in to staff-up the new pilot plant area. Some of the technicians also had extensive prior pilot plant experience in the very same building but within a different type of company with a different focus and level of support from outside organizations. Some came with commercial operations experience, and some were completely new to the industry. At the same time, the company was also experiencing an influx of leadership with backgrounds in commercial scale chemical operations. This mixture of new operations, new people, existing people taking on new roles, new leadership styles, and simply new expectations, had the potential for negative consequences. While there have been hurdles to overcome and the work processes continue to evolve, the organization has thus far risen to the challenge.

This presentation will explore the challenges that the organization faced and the cultural shift and work processes that were required to meet the new expectations and demands. This includes topics such as developing occupational safety work processes, adjusting the management of change process, encouraging new approaches to process safety, and overcoming undesired behaviors and perceptions. The presentation will also discuss how the organization is continuing to evolve five years later as the pilot plant businesses continue to grow and we make continuous improvements to our occupational and process safety systems.