The safety culture at a site, plant or department determines the risk awareness of employees, suppliers and hired workers. The problem is that abstract concepts such as culture are difficult to make understandable. Yet that is what a number of companies and regulators have now done. Three years ago, Brightsite started forming a joint acceptance of the safety culture across the Chemelot site, as part of the ‘Samen Bewust Veilig’ program. In particular, the approach of how to make the safety culture discussable is central to this.
The journey to an accident-free plant will never end. Companies that are already well on their way, will find that it is becoming increasingly difficult to take the final steps. These are mainly related to the contribution of humans. Where physical safety, safety barriers and personal protective equipment are supposed to protect people from outside dangers, they often pose the greatest danger themselves. That is why the process industry is paying more and more attention to the psychological side of safety. Because people not only interpret rules and procedures differently per individual, they are also influenced by their environment.
‘Companies must continuously work on the safety awareness of their employees.’
The grip on the safety culture is also being strengthened in the Chemelot industry cluster. Program Manager ‘Safety & Society’ Esta de Goede of Brightsite sees it as the next step in a journey that will never end. ‘Attention to hardware and software has done a lot of good for the safety of chemical companies. Digitization and communication technology will also make an important contribution. Thanks to data collection and artificial intelligence, we are able to understand and manage much more complex processes. However, people will still be needed to perform physical tasks for the time being. And all those people bring their own standards and values. A joint acceptance of which risks and behavior we tolerate and where we set limits forms the safety culture. It is already quite difficult to find cohesion within a company, let alone for an entire site. Yet we started doing this three years ago as part of the ‘Together Consciously Safe’ program.’ De Goede has her reservations about the usefulness and necessity of a quantitative measurement of safety culture. “The methods are linked to the safety culture. However, the problem is that it is always a snapshot. Safety behavior is very personal and you are always as strong as your weakest link. If someone has had a bad night’s sleep or has problems at home, this influences his behavior. You must therefore be constantly aware that not everyone is at level four of the safety ladder, even if you achieved that score in the last audit. The next question is what to do with people who have a lower score. Do you descend the ladder in order to raise them?’ Safe together therefore focuses not so much on valuing the safety culture, but rather on an approach to make the safety culture a topic of discussion. De Goede: ‘We see that there is a strong correlation between the various factors that shape behavior and safety culture. We reduced those factors to four building blocks: supervisor-centric, craftsmanship, trust and rules that add value.
Although it is a different approach, many of the risk factors mentioned earlier are reflected in the building blocks. ‘Regardless of which method you use, companies must continuously work on the safety awareness of their employees,’ says De Goede. “These kinds of tools should be a starting point for entering into a dialogue with people and making them think about their behavior. Companies at Chemelot have a joint responsibility for safety performance. They have already shared their incidents and are now also measuring them against the yardstick of the building blocks. If you know that an incident occurred because rules were not clear or permits were insufficient, you can do something about it. Professionalism is also often a matter of retraining. The building blocks “supervisor-centric” and “trust” are somewhat more difficult to measure. There it is important to increase resilience and leadership.’ What in any case should be clear is that you are never finished building a safety culture, De Goede knows. ‘The industry sees a transition to climate neutral, whereby hardware and software will change and even energy sources, raw materials and processes are no longer a given. In such a transition you have to be able to move quickly with the developments and you cannot afford any incidents.’
Source Petrochem magazine | Dutch article | Members only