How to Protect Your Ship from Process Safety Hazards

In Star Trek, the ship is protected by a force field called a “shield”.  When under attack, the tactical officer will call out the status of the shield’s integrity, e.g. “shields at 70%, Captain.”  When shields are down to 10%, you know that a breach is imminent unless they retreat or find a way to defeat their attacker.

In a refinery or chemical plant, there is no one calling out the integrity of our protection systems and procedures every few minutes.

But OSHA has specified three specific process safety elements that are critical to Protect Against the Hazards (one of the Five PSM Mindets™) – Pre-Startup Safety Reviews, Mechanical Integrity, and Hot Work Permits.

Taking Action to Prevent Disaster

Once we’ve identified the hazards, it’s time to do something about it. We’ve seen where danger may strike, so we go to the possible sources. We anticipate what could go wrong and prepare for it.

  • We put procedures in place to create consistency and avoid mistakes. But are the procedures being followed? 
  • We add alarms and limits to alert us to known unsafe conditions. Will the appropriate alarms overwhelm the operator in the event of an emergency? 
  • We install systems such as relief valves and automatic shutdowns to react as quickly as physically possible if a dangerous limit is exceeded. Are the safety relief devices and shutdown systems being maintained according to industry standards?  What about the mechanical integrity of the pipes, pumps, or vessels? 

In a process hazard analysis (PHA), safeguards and layers of protection are identified and counted on.  And in our industry, there is a great deal of focus on mechanical integrity and maintaining safety instrumented systems.

The Shield Doesn’t Replace the Crew

In a successful process safety culture, the success or failure of the facility is the responsibility of everyone together – like the crew on Star Trek.

If you are going to help ensure the shields are at maximum strength, here are a few places to start:

  • First, know your enemy – become familiar with the hazards that have been identified and communicated to you.
  • Get to know what the protection layers are for the areas you work in.
  • When there are safe work practices and procedures in place, follow them closely. When you know the “why” behind the procedure, you can be on the lookout for any gaps or concerns.

The safety of a star ship isn’t just dependent on its shield. It depends upon each crew member doing their part and working as a team.

The safety of a facility isn’t just based on the safeguards put in place, but upon each person inside the gate doing their part.

You are more than helping maintain the “shield” – YOU are an integral part of the shield preventing catastrophe so that we may all “live long and prosper”.

Read More from the Five PSM Mindsets™ Series:

This series is based on the concept of the Five PSM Mindsets™ – a unique way to apply OSHA’s 14 PSM elements to your PSM program. Watch this on-demand webinar from Sarah McDuffee for a better understanding of the Five PSM Mindsets™ and how adopting them can create a better process safety culture in your facility.
Sarah McDuffee
About the Author
Sarah McDuffee
Sarah McDuffee joined Provenance Consulting in 2015 as Training Program Coordinator, creating internal and external training courses for industry clients on various Process Safety Management topics. Her background includes 19 years of experience in the refining/chemical industry. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University.  Her 11 years with a major refining company included project design, process unit support and distillation consulting roles.

She completed her Masters in Adult Education and Training with Colorado State University in 2011 while working for Northern Oklahoma College as an engineering instructor for 5 years. During that time, Sarah also served as Program Director for the Process Technology program for four years, partnering with industry on curriculum, recruiting and placement.

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