BY: Stacey Pisani
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Organizations in the chemical manufacturing and energy industry face the daily challenge to safely manage the processing, storage, and transportation of hazardous materials. To enable this, a great deal of focus and effort is put into compliance, strong management systems, well-maintained equipment, and organizational capability.
A key component of organizational capability is the competence of employees. This is critical to an organization’s success—and very relevant to process safety. In fact, process safety competence is both a regulatory requirement and a business improvement driver. But what does competence mean when it comes to the management of process safety?
Process safety competence is an area that is sometimes misunderstood as simply providing training to employees. However, it is much more. Organizations need to understand the definition of competence and ensure employees have the basic competence required to fulfill their job function successfully.
Competence is often defined as “an individual having the right level of training and experience to enable the successful execution of defined job responsibilities”. By this definition, competence is a step beyond basic job training—one that necessitates understanding and the ability to successfully apply what is learned.
To fulfill this intent, especially for those working on the management of process safety, it is critical that employers have a structured and sustainable approach to ensure process safety competence. This may include a clear process safety competence assurance program. Not only will this assist with regulatory compliance, it is a critical element in the prevention of a process safety incident.
Steps to Ensure Competence
To successfully create an organizational culture that values and emphasizes process safety competence assurance, there are some basic steps that need to be followed, including those outlined below:
- Understand and define positions within the organization that impact or influence process safety.
- Define desired competence levels and requirements for each of these positions.
- Develop an organizational competence matrix for process safety that documents the positions and requirements.
- Assess position holders’ (i.e., employees’) process safety competence against the requirements outlined on the organizational matrix.
- Identify gaps in competence for each individual and develop individual closure plans.
- Work with employees to address identified competency gaps and verify that they have been closed.
When filling a position that has process safety requirements, the identified candidate(s) should undergo an assessment against the defined process safety requirements for the position to ensure they are competent. It is important to ensure the new employee has the required competence before they are appointed or hired. Successful candidates may have some minor gaps that can quickly be rectified, but putting candidates into jobs that impact or influence process safety as “development” or a “learning opportunity” is a large risk to the organization and unfair to the individual. It is also a practice organizations should stop if they are truly committed to process safety.
Maintaining the Commitment to Competence
To further enhance the ongoing process safety competence of an organization, each position that impacts or influences process safety must maintain the required process safety competencies identified on the competence matrix. The commitment must be sustained to be successful; it should not be a one-time effort.
Organizations can do this by:
- Reviewing competence requirements and adjusting the matrix as new requirements are identified;
- Conducting regular assessments to verify employee competence; and
- Providing opportunities for training and experiential learning that ensure process safety competence remains a top priority.