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Combining Leading Indicators to Drive Process Safety Performance

September 30, 2013 - Kestrel Management

Achieving a desired level of process safety performance is the combined result of safety culture, operational controls, and human implementation.

  • HPR_Venn_DiagramSafety culture is an abstract concept that involves shared beliefs, expectations, attitudes and opinions about what is acceptable and normal behavior within a specific company.
  • Conversely, operational controls (e.g., policies, procedures, work instructions) are tangible artifacts that form the framework that allows companies to achieve some degree of safety performance.
  • The last component, implementation, is a measure of the extent to which the operational controls (i.e., the rules) are followed throughout the company.

To some degree, culture alone can drive good safety performance. Without operational controls, however, the effects of culture are limited and cannot be sustained. Similarly, robust operational controls can improve safety performance, but these effects also are short-lived without the continual reinforcement of a strong safety culture. Finally, neither safety culture nor robust operational controls will achieve the desired level of safety performance without the support of and adoption by company personnel (i.e., implementation).

Measuring each of these parameters provides leading indicators that can help predict a company’s process safety performance. Numerous industry associations and regulatory agencies understand the importance and recommend the adoption of leading indicators. What may be missing, however, is recognition that it is the combined effect of these parameters that has the most significant impact on performance. Therefore, companies should select metrics to monitor each of these parameters and implement solutions that allow them to monitor the parameters’ combined progress over time.

Key Steps to Improving Process Safety Performance

Improving process safety performance is a multi-step initiative that requires ongoing leadership and commitment. There are several key steps to improving process safety performance, as discussed below. These steps are admittedly presented at very high level; additional details and discussion will be provided in upcoming blogs.

  1. HPR_Triangle_REVClearly define your goal(s). It’s insufficient to use phrases like “we want to be an industry leader,” “we want to be best-in-class,” or even “we want to improve performance.” Each of these phrases has a different meaning to each person within the organization. When working toward a goal, it’s imperative that the goal be clearly defined and communicated.
  2. Establish a baseline of your current safety culture, operational controls, and degree of implementation against current process safety performance. Assess and report these data so that you can monitor their combined progress over time. Although these assessments will be guided by the leadership team, they should be completed by an independent third party qualified to make these types of analyses.
  3. Identify and prioritize improvement opportunities. Develop a standard process to evaluate and prioritize improvement opportunities. Evaluation factors to consider may include the risk of not undertaking the improvement opportunity, associated cost, and level of effort to complete.
  4. Implement the improvement opportunities. This seems obvious, but one of the major findings during OSHA’s Refinery and Chemical NEP was that companies were not resolving findings and recommendations “at a rate expected of large, sophisticated employers.”  Don’t make this mistake.
  5. Monitor and report progress. As noted, improving process safety performance is a multi-step initiative. It’s also a likely multi-year process that will require ongoing monitoring and reporting. Safety culture, operational controls, and degree of implementation should be assessed and reported on an annual basis in the context of your process safety performance.

As a final thought, don’t confuse performance metrics with leading indicators. Process safety performance metrics (e.g., PSIC, PSTIR, PSISR, and PSE) are a measure of actual performance, while leading indicators are an indirect measure used to predict performance. In effect, they are the canary in the coal mine. To be valuable, your leading indicators must correlate with your actual performance.

Kestrel’s team of senior consultants works with clients to identify and assess cultural and operational indicators that lead to process improvements. For more information about how we can work with your team, please contact us at 512.921.8438.

Submitted by: A.W. Armstrong

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