In this issue of the Chemical Industry Journal, we speak to Richard Roff and Neil Smith about their work with the Process Safety Management (PSM) Competence Programme Board.

We take a look at the programmes they’ve developed, the progress that’s been made to date, and hear why our industry leaders should reflect on their responsibilities in 2019.

The background of the board

The PSM Competence Programme Board was founded to support high hazard industries in managing major incident risks better through improved staff competence.

Publishing its first UK Strategy for Competence in Process Safety Management in 2012, the board has gone on to develop accompanying training programmes and to refine this strategy.

The board is supported by Cogent Skills which has charitable status and is a not-for-profit organisation having developed out of the Sector Skills Council, originally set up and funded by Government. Profits are reinvested into the organisation to ensure it can continue to offer support and maintain the quality of its programmes.

Industry expertise

Made up of senior representatives from industry, regulators, trade unions, stakeholder bodies and training organisations, the board incorporates insights from a broad range of organisations working in the hazardous industries. Both Richard and Neil sit on the board.

Richard, a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, chairs the board and brings to the role years of experience of process safety management working in hazardous industries including chemicals and steel.

In his day job as Group Process Safety Manager at Costain Group PLC, Richard advises on the implementation of process safety techniques across all of the group’s businesses. He came on-board as Chair of the PSM Competence Programme Board in 2015.

With a background as an aircraft engineer in the Royal Navy, Neil’s served in locations as diverse as the Arctic Circle and the Gulf, so it’s fair to say he’s no stranger to hazardous situations. All of which has provided him with a robust understanding of effective safety management and an aptitude for seeing when these processes are missing.

He’s since built up over two decades of experience developing, leading and delivering skills and competence development programmes. Now as Head of Workforce Development at Cogent Skills, Neil provides ongoing support to the board to keep the momentum going.

Process safety at the heart

Together Richard, Neil and their fellow board members work to raise awareness of the importance of process safety management and develop accompanying training programmes aimed at all levels of an organisation. They are, as Richard observes, “the custodians of standards for training and competence in process safety management.” The programmes they offer include:

Process Safety Leadership

Designed for senior executives, who are responsible for developing a strong process safety culture within their organisation, this one-day course covers topics including the key elements of Process Safety Management Systems, the business case for establishing such systems and how to effectively engage your workforce in establishing a safety conscious culture. It is followed up within 6 months with a review, for participants to demonstrate progress against their personal action plans, identified during the training.

Process Safety Management Foundations

A two-day course designed for managers, supervisors, designers, safety personnel, operational and senior contract employees to develop a detailed understanding of their role in delivering effective process safety management. This includes an online assessment to check the retention of knowledge and understanding.

Process Safety Management Operations

Designed to be delivered in-house by your own staff, this flexible course provides an understanding of the key concepts of process safety, which can be delivered over two full days or six shorter sessions, with modular online assessments.

Building a safety conscious culture

Reflecting on these programmes Richard observes, “in general terms, our programme is not about technical skills, it’s about the concepts of managing process safety. Our three standards for leaders, managers and operators have been written by the same group of industry professionals, so a common thread runs through all of them and they use a common language.

“Employing all three of the programmes in your organisation will be most effective, as it builds a common understanding and an improved process safety culture throughout the organisation and this is just what I’ve aimed to do at Costain. Choosing a single part may not be so wise as that common language would be missing and it is vital for creating the right culture and ensuring safe operations.”

The progress made to date

Companies which have benefitted from this training include National Grid, Unilever, GSK, Tata Steel, Centrica and Johnson Matthey, to name but a few. In fact, in just five years, around 12,000 people have completed one or other of these programmes.

Although initially founded to raise awareness of process safety management in high hazard industries, such as the chemical and petrochemical industries, the PSM Competence Programme Board is now reaching out to other industries, given that the principles of process safety can benefit all workplaces, making them safer.

Each programme can be tailored to meet the specific challenges of each participating organisation, whether they are from a chemical, construction, fast moving consumer goods or engineering background, for instance, whilst meeting the strict criteria of the standards.

Transferability of the concepts

“Although we will always retain a focus on those industry sectors that are under the spotlight of ‘major accident hazards’,” explains Richard, “we’re committed to sharing best practice with other industry sectors, there should be no barriers to other sectors who want to learn.

“The concepts of process safety are transferable from one sector to another, helping to build an awareness of the impact of a business’s operations on people, the environment and ensuring safe working.

“In my own work at Costain, I’ve found the principles of process safety, can be applied across all aspects of our operations.”

2019 – the challenges ahead

Looking forward, Richard and Neil are adamant that leaders in all industries need to take stock of their responsibilities.

“With the Health and Safety Executive placing an increasing emphasis on the role of business leaders in creating a safety-conscious culture and safe working practices, it’s all the more important for senior executives to get it right,” explains Neil.

“I visit companies to talk about process safety and competence management on a regular basis and I very often hear well-meaning phrases about being committed to zero harm – but there needs to be a deeper understanding and knowledge of what people are committing to, particularly at the senior level, where the culture of their organisation is set.”

Leadership responsibilities

“Leaders of industry need to think about what major hazard leadership really means,” explains Neil. “It’s not simply about attending training themselves, it’s about making sure the whole workforce understands its role in controlling major accident hazards; knowing who knows what in their organisation and what is important.

“It’s not just a personal commitment but about enabling the whole organisation to support that statement. This can only happen if information about major hazards is shared at all levels of an organisation and if controls are in place, along with the methods needed to sustain that control.

“it isn’t uncommon for senior leaders to turnover quite rapidly, so it’s important that everyone from junior operatives to middle managers take ownership of their part in process safety. Leaders also need to be aware of their responsibilities with regard to contractors, as so many industries are reliant on contractors to supplement their operational and maintenance staff.

“Leaders should repeatedly ask how competent is their whole organisation and keep training at the top of their agenda. This would help give assurance that the business will be resilient in the face of a hazardous incident, even if there have been changes in the executive team.

“We know we are not the only source of education and training – the most important thing is that businesses are getting engaged and thinking about their responsibilities with regard to process safety management competence.”

Take an active part

“The success of the programme is down to the dedication of the stakeholders who participate in the board,” explains Richard, “with representatives from across the hazardous industries taking part.

“We want to maintain the board as a living breathing entity and we are always in search of new members to engage with us. We meet three times a year with a corresponding number of conferences calls. We want more input from industry, so we can continue to provide industry with what it needs.

“We are looking for proactive people who are committed to making a difference and who are not afraid to speak their mind, so do get in touch. You can reach us via the Cogent Skills website.”