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Process Safety Fundamentals
The last eight posts have been to do with the changes that OSHA is proposing to make to its Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. We will continue the series, but here we take a break to consider some of the basics to do with PSM — what it is, and how it can be implemented.
There are four posts in this series: Process Safety Fundamentals (this one), Elements of Process Safety Management, Process Safety Management Definitions, and Management a Process Safety Program.
Process Safety Management (PSM) is a management system used in the design and operation of industrial processes that handle large quantities of hazardous and flammable chemicals.
PSM is not new; indeed it has always been an integral part of the process industries. Companies have always carried out activities such as the writing of procedures, planning for emergencies, training of operators and the investigation of incidents. But it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s that PSM programs became more formalized and regulated. Trigger events were the catastrophic release of toxic chemicals from a facility in Bhopal, India in the year 1984, and the offshore Piper Alpha disaster in the year 1986.
In the United States the first nation-wide regulation was 29 CFR 1910.119, Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals, from OSHA (the Occupational Safety & Health Administration), introduced in the year 1992. This regulation served as a model for PSM programs in many other nations and for internal programs developed by many large energy and process companies.
Process safety programs are generally developed for large process and energy facilities such as chemical plants, refineries, offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines. It is also used in related industries such as pharmaceuticals, food processing and power generation.
Process Safety Management
PSM can best be understood by examining its component words.
The first word is Process. PSM is concerned with process issues such as fires and the release of toxic gases, as distinct from occupational (hard hat) safety issues, such as trips and falls.
The second word is Safety. Although an effective PSM program improves all aspects of a facility's operation, the driving force for most PSM programs is the need to maintain safe operations, with a focus on the prevention of catastrophic accidents such as explosions, fires and the release of toxic gases.
The Center for Chemical Process Safety provides guidance as to what constitutes a PSM event.
It must involve a chemical or have chemical process involvement;
It must be above a minimum reporting threshold;
It must occur at a process location; and
The release must be acute, i.e., it must occur over a short period of time.
The third word is Management. A PSM program is to do with creating and implementing management systems that prevent and control major incidents. It is not fundamentally about meeting prescriptive rules or engineering standards. In this context a manager is taken to be anyone who has some degree of control over the process, including operators, engineers and maintenance workers.
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