Monday, October 31, 2011

How can you be better than the best?

The answer is rather simple. If you want to be better than the best in process safety, then you have to learn from the best - and improve on what you learn. It no secret that I admire The Dow Chemical Company for their safety performance and their attitude toward people. And I believe, that it starts with the people attitude. With some companies it starts already when they talk with potential new employees at the campus recruitment center. During the initial conversation to decide whether to offer a young university graduate a second interview and possibly a visit to their facility some companies include questions aimed at understanding the students attitude towards safety. However, it is important to realize, that one can drive a motorcycle, sky dive and perform other recreational activities without being unsafe. It us the attitude with which you approach such activities, that are important.
During a recent fall holiday to Thy in the northwestern part of Denmark I saw surfers at several places along the coast. However, I noticed, that none of them were surfing alone. They also entered the water in a safe way. They seemed to have an agreed upon path, so incomming and outgoing surfers did not collide. There also seemed to friends or others on the beach. Nonetheless, surfing in conditions you see on the picture here is not for beginners. It is for those who have learned from people that are better than them, and want to become better yet.
In a recent article, which by now have been published in several different electronic media, Michael R. Gambrell gives 5 tips on how to improve your company's safety performance. Most recent I have seen the article "Make Safety Second Nature" on . Here Mr. Gambrell, who is an executive with Dow gives these tips on achieving second to none safety performance:
  1. Make safety the top priority.
  2. Set the tone form the top.
  3. Hold everyone accountable.
  4. Establish bold goals.
  5. Learn and leverage.
I have heard Dupont employees say, that at their company safety is not a priority. It is the basis for being in business. It certainly help if the top guy or gal - the CEO - sets the tone, as the CEO of Dow did with an interview in Harward Business Review in the mid nineties just after the company had published their safety goals for 2005. If this does not happen you may be in for an uphill battle! What happened at Dow in 2005? Some goals were achieved, while others were not. Nonetheless Dow established still bolder goals for 2015. And ever since the first goals set in 1995 annual progress reporting have been published. That is a bold thing. Following the five tips year after year made Dow's safety performance 60% better than the chemical industry average in 2009 - see graph in referenced article.
Then how can you be better than Dow? There is no easy answer. One possibility is to look at your suppliers all the way from were things come out of the ground, and establish relationships with them to build an inherently safer and highly ethical supply chain all the way to the final consumer. Look at areas within social responsibility and customer relations in which others have not yet set goals. And then tell the world how you are working towards your goals, so others can learn too.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Deaths of innocent children - is that allrigth?

For some time the Chemical Safety Board have investigated deaths near oil and gas exploration and production facilities - especially deaths of innocent children. Two days ago they released a report that found many oil and gas exploration and production facilities to be hazardous to the public and especially to children. The report contained numerous recommendations directed at the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Missisippi State Oil & Gas Board, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the Texas Railroad Commission, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Fire Protection Association. I immediately think, that something is severely missing from this list of recipients, but maybe it is just the nature of organisations. Maybe organisations have en tendency to just see those they serve as being other organisations.
Among the technical recommendations are the use of inherently safety tank design features such as flame arrestors, pressure-vacuum vents, floating roofs, and vapor recovery systems. Just this week I saw this demonstrated on a garbage bin for a whole apartment complex - several hundreds of apartments. They had replaced many 400 liter plastic containers with a single large iron bin, where the deposit of garbage worked like those astrays many families had in the fifties and seventies, where you press a button, and the ash disappears below a lid (improved versions of this design is still available at Smell killer ashtray). You could actually throw a burning match into this garbage bin whitout coursing a fire. With the old plastic container they experienced almost a fire a week. This is what the CSB calls for: that lighting a match near a gas or oil exploration or production facility does not cause an explosion and fire.
Unfortunately the CSB in their report does not recommend, that owners and operators of oil and gas exploration and production facilities use inherently safer design at all their sites. Unfortunately the CSB does not tell these owners that implementing such features at their sites often is less costly than a single explosion and fire with its potential for loss - including deadly outcomes.
As a test I wrote on my Google+ stream a public message about this report. In this message I called for the fine in case of deads around oil and gas explorations facilities should be at least equal to the amount of capital saved by not providing adequate access control. Within a short time one person responded, that jail time should be called for. What do you thing?
When I was working in Canada in the eighties there were some problems enforcing the environmental laws. However, that seemed to disappear overnight when the possibility of sending site managers to jail was introduced. I am sad to see the amount of bureaucratic measures needed just because owners and operators of facilities are insufficiently concerned about the safety of their fellow citizens.

Friday, October 07, 2011

What is the difference between the EPSC and the ISC?

At the special session "Process safety competence - European strength degrading to weakness" at ECCE-8 in Berling this I for the first time heard about an initiative of the IChemE called the IChemE Safety Center, properly abreviated ISC - see annoncement on EPSC website from 2009.

At the special session a representative from the IChemE was scheduled to give a presentation to the special PPS competence session, but unfortunately this person had an accident a short time before the event, and the persons doctor recommended, that he or she did not travel to Berlin. In stead an EPSC employee gave the presentation.

This made me wonder about a couple of things:
  • how an employee of the EPSC can represent the IChemE? Or why the IChemE could not have send another IChemE employee?
  • the similarity of the names of the two organisation European Process Safety Centre and IChemE Safety Centre. For some people the two organisations could easily be confused because of the similarity of the names. Especially since they are located on the same address in Rugby, and the abbreviated name also are similar, ie. ISC og EPSC.
In the brochure about the IChemE Safety Centre distributed to attendees it is further stated that the centre will offer leadership in the so-called six pillars of process safety: knowledge and competence, process design, systems and procedures, management and audit, human factors and culture. To me there appear to be an overlap with the areas where EPSC is active. I suggest, that the EPSC board should ask the though questions about possible conflicts of interest between the European wide organizaton EPSC and the national association of chemical engineers in the UK called the Institution of Chemical Engineers.

With the IChemE Safety Centre offering both public and in-house training course I see a possibility of EPSC finansing the development of courses offered by ISC to the chemical industry. I don't know if this is desirable. At least the EPSC board should reflect on the issues and ask the though questions about how ISC plan to develop their course offerings?

Maybe the questions have already been asked by the EPSC board. If so, the answers should be communicated to the wondering world in order to clearify the diffence between the aims of EPSC and ISC - both in Rugby.

I think it is important for an organisation like the EPSC to be as independent as possible of national interest in order to have the necessary influence on the European level and hence serve all process industries in all European countries.