Over recent years there seems to be a growing emphasis on cross sector and industry sharing of information, including that relating to the latest in best practise, regulation and incidents and near misses. The benefits of sharing knowledge within industry are clear; everyone can benefit from improvements in process safety. Sharing is facilitated largely by industry based associations and membership organisations who provide support via a number of means including meetings and publications. Despite this, is sharing as effective as we intend it to be? In this article, RAS Ltd explore the shortcomings in industry learning and how we can improve.
There are numerous trade associations, working groups and forums out there which are designed to provide an interface between industry and the regulator, and provide support for better regulation and better management of major accidents. They involve representatives of the regulator and their member companies within their specific sector, to share knowledge and best practice and to develop guidance as necessary. Where there are many outlets for information prepared by these groups; conferences, forums and publications for example, it tends only to be received by management who are expected to relay the information from the top down. While this works for information relating to their role, a lot of guidance and best practice relates to plant and process and it should therefore be the engineers on site in direct receipt of the information. In order to ensure this, we need tighter systems on site for sharing information or to provide the workforce with access to these industry organisations. Memberships are expensive, however, and guidance comes at a cost too. With ever tightening budgets, many smaller companies simply cannot afford to keep up.
This is reflected further when you look at the demographics of industry associations and their working groups. The purpose of working groups is to bring together a representative team from industry to work together to improve regulation and compliance. Are attendees truly representative of the industry, though? Often it is the larger corporations we see getting involved, and smaller companies do not seem to have as strong a voice. Being part of these groups takes up a lot of resource both in terms of time and money, and providing this resource is not always possible. There are ways to make working groups more accessible, however. Remote communications such as webinars are making access easier and information more available for other purposes such as training, and they could be applied in this instance too.
With the number of industry organisations in existence growing and limited resources being available, it is difficult to know which ones to be a part of, and which guidance to choose when the outputs from different working groups overlap. This could be alleviated by some transparency from the regulator in their preferred sources of information.
All in all, it seems like the solution to some of the challenges in communication via industry associations is joining up the key players: the associations themselves, the regulator, and a good representative set of workers from companies throughout the relevant sector. This could include regional networking events, drop in sessions with specialists and inter-company events such as peer audits. Linking these up facilitates the open sharing of information and ensures the latest knowledge and experience in process safety can rapidly reach the right people.
Carolyn Nicholls – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Hill – email@example.com