11 March

Good Process Safety in any organization requires specific knowledge, experience and skills. Sounds sensible. These building blocks of Process Safety Competency lie, of course, with your organization’s staff.  But wait a moment.  How do I know that I have the necessary levels of competency in my organization?  Now it’s getting more difficult.

In this article we look at an approach to DETERMINING the process safety competency required in an organization AND how it is possible to ASSESS that level of competency so that supportive/corrective action can be taken.

What level of competency do I need?

It is clear that simply employing staff dedicated to process safety does not guarantee the safety of the people and your facility. How could it. Process safety is a big field and any one person is unlikely to have all the skills, experience and knowledge required. In any case, process safety staff are just one ‘cog in the wheel’ that can make a facility safe. If you think about it, you realize that a degree of competency is required at many levels in an organization. For example:

  • The Executive Board should understand the bigger picture of risk in likelihood and consequences of incident, emergency preparedness, main legislative responsibilities and how the culture they can set influences safe behavior.
  • Engineering staff will need more detailed knowledge of safety in design, codes and standards, process and operational matters, contractor management, and more.
  • It will even benefit the organization if staff in support functions such as finance and HR understand at a basic level the importance to process safety of things like management of change, safe systems of work and incident reporting.

The list goes on, but what becomes apparent is that a wide range of staff functions have influence on process safety in practice – and that different staff functions require different levels of competency (knowledge, experience and skills) in process safety. Fortunately, work has been done to determine competency levels (numerically quantified) against job function and our own work and experience has led us to develop an organizational competency assessment program that we implement for and with our clients.

Our Experience

We have found that by working with our clients we can run a series of interviews, usually based on self-assessment work by selected staff, where we can delve in to competency through structured discussion. Where we agree there may be areas in need of development, we can discuss ways of achieving it. In practice, the interview process also allows the opportunity to check that all competency areas required by the organization to run a safe plant are present, and that nothing has been overlooked and is missing.  We have found that a structured approach is important. It needs to begin with job mapping to generic job functions where pre-defined competency levels are available. But the interview/ discussion process is key to the success of the work. It allows us to blend the experience of our most senior process safety staff with that of our clients’ to ensure a comprehensive, impartial and verified output.

Is process safety competency assessment appropriate for my organization?

The small company: With small companies, there are fewer people to hold the necessary knowledge, experience and skills. This means gaps in competency may more readily occur but that identifying these is that much more important. Of course, the management of the identified competencies is important too, ensuring that as staff leave and join, no gap are created – and that skills and knowledge are kept up to date.

The large corporation: Here the challenges are more likely to revolve around knowing what is happening at facilities that are distant or even in remote part of the globe where process safety culture and standards are inherently different. Here competency assessment work can bring reassurance to corporation executives – and highlight where effort can be targeted for best returns in process safety/ risk reduction.

What to do with the results of an Organizational Competency Assessment.

The output from a competency study should include strategies for filling competency gaps. At its simplest level, training may fill a gap, but other possible strategies include linking with other sites, reviewing best practice, use of mentors, participation in certain process safety activities, process audit – and more.

And before you ask.

  1. Yes, we do subject our own process safety consulting staff to process safety competency assessment!
  2. The staff interview process that we conduct on your site is not an exam! It is not about exposing staff; it is about establishing ways to ensure your organization has all the process safety competency required to operate at an excellent level of safety.

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