INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Safety Matters

Alexa Burr, Director, System Programs, Global Industry Services, American Petroleum Institute, and speaker at the 3rd GPCA Responsible Care Conference, discusses safety, sustainability and promoting environmental responsibility at global chemical and petroleum firms

Who is the American Petroleum Institute and what is your vision?

At the American Petroleum Institute, we are the problem solvers who tackle the world’s greatest energy challenges – meeting growing demand, fueling economic growth and creating a better tomorrow.

API and our members help meet the world’s growing energy demand with safe, responsible operations. We are also focused on finding solutions in the oil and gas industry that: meet demand with safe, responsible operations; reduce our environmental impact; promote free markets and free trade; support cost-effective, risk-based regulation; and, develop a diverse, skilled workforce. API’s more than 600 members operate globally and include large integrated companies, as well as exploration and production, refining, marketing, pipeline, and marine businesses, and service and supply firms.

API’s Global Industry Services (GIS) division promotes safety, environmental protection, and sustainability across the natural gas and oil industry, globally.  Through valuable products, programs, services, and standards, GIS supports improved employee and operational safety and efficiency throughout the oil and natural gas supply chain.

 

What are some of the key elements that make for a good process safety strategy?

We believe that the most important element of a good process safety strategy is a commitment to a culture of safety and continuous improvement. Our members continuously look for opportunities to enhance safety and recognize that an effective means to improve process safety performance throughout the industry is to learn from each other. While petroleum operations involve risks, they can be effectively managed and/or eliminated when appropriate measures are taken. Operating safely is the most basic feature of business efficiency and has proven to improve productivity.

API’s Process Safety Site Assessment Program – or PSSAP – is specifically designed for the refining and petrochemical industry.  During a PSSAP assessment, a team of independent, third-party process safety experts spend about a week at an industrial facility, working with employees and leadership (across all shifts) to fully understand the current process safety systems.  Following the assessment, the PSSAP team provides observations, opportunities for improvement, and benchmarking data that can be used to enhance process safety and improve outcomes at the facility.

The role of technology is becoming increasingly more important in companies’ safety procedures. But how much of a company’s good safety record is about the human element and having the right processes and controls?  

A good safety record relies first and foremost on each person being committed to a culture of safety.  Technology is, and always will be an important part of safety procedures – but, there is no substitute for collaboration of subject matter experts, field implementation and the sharing of experiences at industry sites to help facilities drive improvement.  A robust safety culture is one where everybody feels personally responsible for their actions, including the consequences of those actions. This includes a willingness at all levels to raise concerns, disclose mistakes, and work together to respond to and resolve issues. This becomes a positively‐reinforcing cycle, as issue resolution encourages more error‐reporting, which in turn can help organizations identify issues earlier, before they lead to more serious consequences.

Specific to process safety, when a PSSAP assessment is done, the third-party expert teams specifically address protocols that fall under the “human element,” including one on leadership and incident learning.  And, they spend a considerable amount of time with staff in the field to determine how procedures and programs are being used and implemented, as well as sharing lessons learned from their experiences.  As one of our key stakeholders described, “… One of the most important takeaways of the process was the opportunity for our staff to learn through engagements with the assessors …The auditors had a wealth of plant experience that allowed them to dive into the key aspects related to the health of our overall process safety management …”

Tell us a little bit about API’s new initiatives on process safety – a topic delegates can learn more about at the upcoming 3rd GPCA Responsible Care Conference.

API’s PSSAP is an initiative that is effective for refineries of all sizes; it promotes step changes in performance, through the sharing of experiences and industry’s practices, and serves as a feedback mechanism to identify industry trends and patterns.  PSSAP helps facilities benchmark their programs to help each site prevent a process safety event.

During a PSSAP assessment, a team of independent, third-party process safety experts spend about a week at an industrial facility, working with employees and leadership (across all shifts) to fully understand the current process safety systems.  Following the assessment, the PSSAP team provides observations, opportunities for improvement, and benchmarking data that can be used to enhance process safety and improve outcomes at the facility.

Benchmarking is one of the most valuable offerings of PSSAP.  With the site’s permission, protocol question scores are blindly placed in a database to allow a site to compare its performance to the industry and identify areas for improvement.  It also allows the industry to measure its progress over time.

And lastly, but importantly, as a woman in a male dominated industry – what are some of the main challenges that you’ve faced on your way up and what piece of advice would you give to other female leaders looking to have a career in the industry?

The one piece of advice that I often give to other young women – in any industry – is to advocate for yourself.  Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself, whether it is for the ability to work on new projects or for your compensation and benefits.   And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to have fun!  The best part of any job is your co-workers; so make time to build those relationships and enjoy your time in the office.