We wrote last year that 2019 was to be the year of leadership, and shared a handful of key messages that organisations should bear in mind as the topic is brought into focus. Now, as the regulatory year is edging closer, we explore how the principles of process safety leadership can be used to improve safety not just within an organisation, but throughout industry as a whole.

November last year saw the launch of ‘Solutions for Our Future’, a programme about the UK’s chemical industry produced by the Chemical Industries Association in partnership with ITN Productions. RAS Ltd were lucky enough to be involved, and used the opportunity to deliver our message on leadership, focussing on four key themes that should help organisations to embed the principles of leadership into their operations. The principles start within the organisation, but it is important to appreciate how our combined efforts will create a safer industry.

Managing process safety hazards

The decisions of leaders have a direct impact on the safety of their establishment. Without an understanding of their major accident hazards, leaders cannot allocate the right resources or instil a culture that prioritises safety.

With this in mind, organisations should ask themselves how many people on their board know about process safety management, and how confident they are that the depth of their knowledge allows safety to be at the root of all decisions. A competent leader who understands the hazards at their establishment and how the PSM system links together will appreciate that productivity is a by-product of safety. When you invest in safety, you invest in equipment integrity, wellbeing and morale and high reliability processes; pillars of successful operations.

Monitoring performance

Making investments in safety is most effective when focussed in the right places; places which will inevitably change over time. The key to prioritising is collecting data on how existing people, plant and processes are performing. A tiered approach considering process areas at a high level right down to plant items that are individual barriers can provide a clear picture. Being transparent and reporting results to the right people will secure the focus of those who can make a difference. A Board member will need to know where the big investments should be made, but an engineering manager can make an immediate difference with inspection results from their plant area.

Publishing performance details

The previous paragraph illustrates that what is being measured is being managed, but this doesn’t just apply internally. Sharing and collaboration is a key principle of leadership, and publishing details on performance creates a benchmark; something that will drive improvement forward by sharing ideas and lessons learnt. Associations like the CIA and TSA enable us to talk more openly with government, the regulator and our peers. It doesn’t have to be a mechanism for naming and shaming; good results boost the confidence of the public, the regulator and stakeholders, encourage engagement and increase morale.

Sharing best practice

When people work together, they can draw attention to issues and be the starting point for change. Sharing best practice through trade associations like those named above can result in the regulations, standards and guidance that facilitate a consistent approach across industry; one that works practically for operators. Beyond this, what can we learn from other sectors? The principles of risk are the same no matter what the industry is, and it is worthwhile considering how lessons from others should be implemented.

Furthermore, industry and academia have much to gain from one another. The latest knowledge from academia can be applied in practice by the operator. For example, what insight can psychologists provide to safety culture and behaviour, and how can software engineers help us to streamline operations and improve on safety? Embracing the work of others gives us the best chance to drive the industry forward.

The year of leadership is an opportunity not only to inspire even greater standards of process safety management, but to create a cross-sector culture that incorporates safety into existing systems and to demonstrate why the UK’s chemicals sector is something to be proud of.


Carolyn Nicholls


Jennifer Hill