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:
- Identify: How to Use Patterns to Identify Process Safety Hazards
- Communicate: Can Your Hear Me Yet? How to Communicate Hazards Better
- Protect: How to Protect Your Ship from Process Safety Hazards
- Re-Evaluate: How Better Access to PHA Data Can Inform Your MOC Process
- Transparency: How Telling Stories Creates Hazard Transparency