A Guide for Preventing Process Safety Incidents

A Guide for Preventing Process Safety Incidents

01 Aug 2023

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This informal CPD article ‘A Guide to Preventing Process Safety Incidents’, was provided by Synergen Oil and Gas UK, an independent engineering consultancy specialising in Process Safety, Technical Risk Management and Operational Safety services.

Process safety incidents (PSIs) are a significant factor in the chemical and petrochemical industries' fatalities, injuries, and property damage. PSIs occur during various operational phases, including startup, shutdown, process upsets and malfunctions, maintenance activities, product transfer and handling, and emergency response. In this article, let’s explore how to prevent process safety incidents.

Understanding Process Safety Incidents

Process safety incidents are unplanned events that can release hazardous materials outside the intended operational boundaries. They differ from accidents, which have the potential for injury or death. A PSI encompasses events that result in death or serious physical injury, significant release of a regulated substance, or substantial property damage.

Causes of Process Safety Incidents

The most frequent causes of process safety incidents include human error, equipment malfunction, and failure to follow proper procedures. Here is a revised list:

  1. Insufficient management commitment to process safety
  2. Inadequate employee training in process safety
  3. Lack of comprehensive process hazard analysis
  4. Inadequate design and operation of equipment or systems
  5. Poor maintenance practices
  6. Mismanagement of safety hazards
  7. Limited knowledge and experience in handling hazardous materials
  8. Inadequate tools and resources
  9. Human error 

Preventing Process Safety Incidents

Implementing risk assessment and management measures, maintenance of safety systems and equipment, and employee training and education can help reduce process safety incidents.

1. Risk Assessment and Management

Risk assessment and management involve identifying, evaluating, and controlling risks associated with process hazards. By analysing the likelihood and severity of potential incidents, organizations can implement appropriate risk mitigation measures. This includes hazard analysis, safety procedure development, adherence to industry standards and regulations, and regular updating of risk assessments.

2. Maintenance of Safety Systems and Equipment 

Regularly maintaining safety systems and equipment is critical in preventing process safety incidents. By detecting and addressing equipment failures, organisations can prevent serious accidents. This involves conducting inspections, calibrating, and testing emergency equipment such as alarms and relief valves.

3. Training and Education for Employees

Proper training and education for employees are essential in preventing process safety incidents. Employees handling hazardous materials or operating complex processes should receive training on potential hazards, mitigation strategies, and emergency response. Regular refresher courses and training sessions on safe operating procedures, hazard communication, and equipment monitoring can help prevent accidents.

Training sessions on safe operating procedures

How to respond to process safety incidents

Emergency Response Protocols 

Having well-defined emergency response protocols is crucial during process safety incidents. These protocols outline immediate actions to ensure personnel safety, mitigate the incident, and minimise its impact. Organisations should emphasise regular drills and exercises to familiarise employees with the protocols.

Crisis Management and Communication 

Effective crisis management requires clear communication and coordination among emergency responders, management, affected personnel, and stakeholders. Establishing a crisis management team, defining roles and responsibilities, and implementing communication protocols are vital. Additionally, organisations should address strategies for communicating with the public, media, and regulatory agencies to manage the incident's external impact.

Incident Investigation and Analysis

After controlling a process safety incident and executing the initial response, organisations should conduct a thorough investigation and analysis. This allows understanding of the root causes, contributing factors, and failures that led to the incident. Organisations should stress the importance of systematic investigation, evidence collection, witness interviews, and documentation. Furthermore, analysing incidents helps identify areas for improvement, implement corrective actions, and prevent similar incidents in the future.

Historical Process Safety Disasters

Several historical process safety incidents serve as reminders of the importance of robust safety measures and preventive strategies. Some examples include:

  1. Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (2010)
  2. Texas City Refinery Explosion (2005)
  3. ARCO Channelview Explosion (1990)
  4. West Fertilizer Company Explosion (2013) 

Best Practices in Process Safety Incident Management

Implementing an effective process safety management system and following best practices can mitigate risks, ensure safety compliance, and improve processes. Here are some key areas to focus on:

  • Establishing a Safety Culture
  • Leadership Commitment
  • Clearly Defined Roles and Responsibilities
  • Effective Communication and Training
  • Regular Audits and Inspections
  • Proactive Risk Assessment
  • Compliance Monitoring
  • Thorough Inspections
  • Continuous Improvement and Lessons Learned
  • Incident Investigation
  • Implementing Corrective Actions
  • Sharing Lessons Learned 


Implementing a robust process safety management system and adherence to best practices are crucial for reducing the risks of process safety incidents. By establishing a safety culture, conducting regular audits and inspections, and continually improving processes, organizations can create a safer work environment.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Synergen Oil and Gas UK, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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Synergen Oil and Gas UK

Synergen Oil and Gas UK

For more information from Synergen Oil and Gas UK, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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