The main contention offered by Mark Griffon, US Chemical Safety Board, and Sydney Dekker, Professor at Griffith University, at the Risk Engineering conference in Brisbane was that many organisations have over-focussed on personal safety in recent times at the expense of process safety. At first glance this position appears to favour safety of the plant as opposed to people, but this is not the case, and not intended by the speakers.
Some good examples were given to demonstrate the importance of keeping the focus on process safety. Probably the most important reason for ensuring the process is safe is demonstrated by the BP Deep Water Horizon disaster which resulted in 11 immediate deaths and billions of dollars damage and untold environmental and public image impacts from a process failure.
It is alleged that management on the rig at the time and throughout the business were focused on work injury rates, which often reflect “minor” injury types such as; cuts, bruises and sprains, as opposed to “process safety”.
A possible lesson for all safety professionals is to keep an eye on the “big ticket risks”, as relevant for the business, and ensure the more frequent and less severe risks are managed, but do not consume everyone involved.