Continuing the theme from my previous blog, I believe that our species is primarily Epicurean in mentality - driving towards pleasure and away from pain, in line with the purpose of life being, well, life….and more life. If that premise is accepted, then I would propose that the goal of life is satisfaction and that the development of confidence underpins our ability to be brave enough to make decisions targeting long term satisfaction. So far, so philosophical. But how does this have anything to do with Process Safety?

Companies have a vested interest in Process Safety. Their principle driver, one based largely on logic, is to maximise a return to their shareholders. Accordingly they strive to:

  • minimise PS incidents, which cost, on average, 10000+ times the cost of measures which would have prevented them
  • maximise their PS ROI
  • maximise their uptime, which is negatively correlated with Lagging Indicators such as breaching the Process Safety envelope (e.g. popping PSVs)

Consequently, they strive to align the PS related behaviour of its employees with these goals. In the Oil Industry, they have done this in a number of ways, including:

  • Chronic Unease – workforce encouraged to be vigilant at all times
  • Focus on Lagging Indicators (e.g. days without lost time incident) exacerbated by celebrating milestones, as was the case at the Texas City Refinery Disaster in 2005.

However, the workforce they are trying to influence are, as discussed above, driven by different forces, emotional forces - to protect themselves and their colleagues. Individuals generally respond to the drivers of their own brains. Our brains are the most complex organisms in the known universe and as such are very energy draining (25% of body’s energy vs 2% weight). Consequently, they have evolved to be very energy efficient and will drive to minimise activities which are energy draining:

  • Minimising conflict – increasing risk of groupthink
  • Minimising uncertainty – increasing fear of change
  • Minimising conscious thought – increasing risk of human factor errors: lapses, mistakes, violations (normalisation of deviation)

They have developed senses to protect us against atavistic threats, as in the top image. This makes us reasonably good at protecting ourselves and colleagues from hazards which we can sense (see, hear, smell, touch, taste), but more susceptible to complex and ‘senseless’ Process Safety Risks.

So what to do? Progressive companies have recognised and addressed the mismatch between their PS drivers and those of their employees. Good exemplars include Shell, who encourage employees to lead by example and encourage external perspective as part of their annual Safety Day. And RasGas, who’s Operator Care Initiative empowers employees to tour the facility, be alert to anything out of the ordinary (applying their 6th sense) and act on that feeling. My own company, Process Safety Matters advocates the use of Safe Surprises, or on the spot audits, to mitigate against the normalisation of deviation and the identification of innovative ways to incentivise the discomfort of develop new and better PS habits - rewarding endeavour over success.

So in conclusion, when the going gets tough, the tough get emotional. And by intelligently channelling those emotions, the tough can keep on keeping on.

emotion trumps reason