Those who work in the field and/or have experienced the aftermath of incidents, know that good Process Safety makes a difference. Piper Alpha widows and children, Louisiana fishermen, Bhopal residents. The list goes on. But what about the rest of us. The 99%. The vast majority. There is simply too much information out there, every bit jostling for our attention. Our brains have evolved to filter and triage information which is helpful to us and, to be grossly simplistic, its key tenets in this regard are Epicurean. We gravitate towards pleasure and away from pain.

Many purveyors of information have already cottoned onto this notion. Marketers are black belt Epicureans. It’s how they sell things to us. Fear and Desire. A sprinkle of one and a dash of the other and you can change the world. Try this little thought experiment. When was the last time you thought about safety? Any sort of safety. Got it. OK now consider when was the last time you thought about sex? Any sort of sex. See what I mean. Research has shown that, on average, 1 to 2 times per waking hour (Source: Journal of Sex Research, 2012). Air New Zealand, which were bold enough to exploit this tendency in a racy version of their in-flight safety video (from which the above image was extracted). The airline has an exemplary safety record (in top 10 of 400+ airlines worldwide - Source: Coincidence? Maybe, but the link to the actual video shows that safety and glamour can sometimes intersect to powerful effect:

Another good example is the marketing of butter, specifically Lurpak. The Danish company succeeded in making this most mundane of products memorable by generating excitement for cooking and food in a series of ads - the one which is viewable via the attached link actually makes the hairs rise up on the back of my neck.

When we do think about safety, it tends to be in relation to ourselves and our intimates. That’s fear rearing its head. People tend to develop and, for a time, sustain heightened vigilance to threats, when they perceive them as being real and immediate. You instinctively grab your child when they step out into a busy road. And you retain that sensibility when in the same situation for days and weeks afterwards, thus increasing that child’s safety. So how could we use this phenomenon in the context of Process Safety?

Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I was carrying out a HAZID/HAZOP closeout for an EPF (Early Production Facility - photo below) in Kurdistan. One of the actions was to validate the H2S alarm drill (H2S is a toxic gas, usually fatal at concentrations of 1000 ppm or 0.1%, which is often present in significant concentrations in well fluids). However the day before the drill was due to take place, there was an actual alert. As you can imagine, the site crew all rapidly responded in the correct manner. In the debrief afterwards, one the team leaders noted that the response was much more dynamic than the recent planned drill and joked that apparently the alert was due to a faulty reading on the instrument.’ Maybe we should contrive some pretend alerts to make our guys pay more attention’ he said. And I thought…..maybe we should.

So, by making Process Safety a bit more alluring and invigorating, we can make it more effective. And save more future lives.