A first impression is the event when one person first encounters another person and forms a mental image of that person. This happens rapidly because our ancestors sometimes had to make split second decisions as to whether a stranger was a friend or foe. As this instinct evolved before the development of sophisticated language, non-verbal behaviours are particularly important in this regard: smiling, eyebrow position, emotional expression, and eye contact are key. Furthermore, posture, leaning in and giving a firm handshake are beneficial. This impression is seared into our brains so that it can be referenced when required.

A second and subsequent encounters tends to reinforce the first due confirmation bias. We tend to highlight the aspects which support our first impression while downgrading those which counter it. This may be due to atavistic first impressions being mainly authentic and therefore safe, so future dissonance is treated as aberration. Accordingly, it’s darned difficult to recover from a poor first impression. Indeed, some recent research has demonstrated that you need 8 positive subsequent encounters to offset a poor 1st impression.

Does this translate to organisational behaviour? Are there parallels to be drawn in the High Hazard Processing (HHP) industry for the first engagement of its stakeholders? I believe there may be.

Process Industry Stakeholder

Possible First Engagement?


New Employee

Interview / Induction

Good Process Safety Sensibility imbued unconsciously


Salesperson (already imbued with Good Process Safety Sensibility)

Increase trust and authenticity perception – more sales?


Procurement (already imbued with Good Process Safety Sensibility)

Increase trust and authenticity perception – better prices?

Regulatory Authority


Positive Impact of Good Process Safety Sensibility on workforce and practices


Observation of Emission

Less visible disturbances due to Good Process Safety Sensibility leading to improved Public Relations re site developments etc

So how can we imbue a better Process Safety Sensibility in an HHP company. I feel that there are at least 2 strands worth pursuing.

Firstly, leaders can set the tone and this is most effective if it comes from the very top. In his book ‘The Alchemists’ Jim Ratcliffe, majority owner of INEOS, a $60bn turnover HHP company, says ‘We hold some 20 board meetings (ExCos), one for each subsidiary, each month, that both Andy and I attend. The first item on the agenda is always safety. Not just personal, but process safety too. It is mandatory for each board in INEOS to report key safety metrics each month.’ For me, that sounds like ‘walking the talk’.

Secondly, to paraphrase Aristotle ‘give me a new employee for a week and I’ll embed his or her Process Safety Sensibility for ever’. If we integrate Process Safety as an equal partner in our new employee induction, we can make a positive impact on the long-term Process Safety risks of a High Hazard operation.