Symposium Discussions Reinforce Importance of Creating Safety Culture

Chemical Safety Board Chairwoman Vanessa Sutherland and SOCMA President and CEO Jennifer Abril

Retrospective Panel on Hurricane Harvey Response Provides Attendees with Wealth of Insight

From keynote speakers Vanessa Sutherland, Chairwoman of the Chemical Safety Board, and Dr. M. Sam Mannan, Regents Professor and Director of the Mary K. O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M University, to a host of panelists, the key message throughout the 2017 National Chemical Safety Symposium was the importance of creating a safety culture in chemical facilities and addressing the challenges faced by small and medium-sized companies. 

A particular highlight of this year's event, held October 11-12 in Houston, TX, was a retrospective panel discussion on how facilities handled Hurricane Harvey and lessons learned as they move forward. Members of the KMCO, LLC, and Trecora teams shared insight into their hurricane preparedness plans and walked attendees through the steps of what they did before during and after the storm to ensure that their employees, facilities and the community were safe. 

The event kicked off on Wednesday, October 11, with a legislative and regulatory update that included breakout sessions, where attendees discussed some of the key issues impacting their facilities. In the afternoon, Dr. Mannan addressed attendees, and Jerry L. Jones, a chemical engineering consultant, facilitated a workshop on operational excellence in environmental health and safety and the need to focus on risk culture, competencies and conduct of operations.

If you were unable to attend the 2017 National Chemical Safety Symposium, here are a few key takeaways from our speakers and panelists:

Vanessa Sutherland

Sutherland's biggest recommendation is the modernization of U.S. process safety regulations. She stressed that major chemical incidents can be prevented by applying process safety management principles. Other highlights included:

  • An update on existing Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) requirements to include the documented use of inherently safer systems
  • The development of more explicit requirements for facility/process safety and human factors, including fatigue
  • The requirement of coordination of covered facility emergency plans with local emergency response authorities.

“Although recently there have been some positive initial steps taken toward significant  improvement in process safety, more must be done to protect worker safety, public health and the environment.”

Valerie Green, Risk Vs. Hazard: Effective Communication Tools for Stakeholder Groups

  • Process safety as a personal value that is second nature for all stakeholders
  • Manufacturing and processing of chemicals is similar to driving a car; there are hazards due to process chemicals or conditions, and there are safety systems in place to operate these sites with low risk.

Safety Culture Panel: Don Abrahamson & Seth Bretscher

Don Abrahamson: Strong Process Safety Program = Safety Culture + Management System

  • Organizations need to maintain a strong sense of vulnerability
  • Facilities must combat normalization of deviation
  • Management must be open to performing valid and timely risk assessments
  • Leadership must establish an imperative for process safety
  • Operators must be empowered with the authority to shut down in an emergency
  • There should be guidelines in place for resolving production vs. safety/process safety conflicts

Seth Bretscher: ZIP Process – A Process to Achieve Safety Culture Excellence

  • Engage leadership
  • Assess current state
  • Build a strategic plan
  • Develop tactical gains using continuous improvement team
  • Implement error proof process
  • Check progress

Utilizing EHS&S as a Business Advantage: Michael Stadelmaier & John Foley

  • Enhance sustainability along the supply chain
  • A solid EHS&S performance of suppliers and contract manufacturers allows bigger companies to partner efficiently with companies who share their same core values
  • Cost associated with regulatory non-compliance or EHS failures and disruptions can be avoided

Essentials of Safe Work Practices in Chemical Process Industry Facilities

  • Fundamental Intent – provide a solid foundation of your goal
  • Incidents – list of incidents that have identified root cause
  • Reference Materials – information sources to gain further information into intent, incidents and effective practice.
  • Potential Hazards - enable users to understand potential pitfalls and challenges and how to deal with it.
  • Effective Practice – benchmark opportunities
  • Workflows – create workflows process for potential incidents

SOCMA Member Panel: Process Safety Challenges Facing Small/Mid-Size Chemical Companies

PSM Challenges Faced by Trecora (Larry Birdsell)

  • Understand the true nature of materials and hazards. Initial representation of materials may not be what you receive.
  • Timing is very important. Customer typically needs product as soon as possible. 
  • Adaptation and process development depends on the quality of information provided by the customer. Customer may provide more or less details.
  • Maintain the same process for risk management as you would any other hazardous process.
  • Technical coverage is the best approach to having knowledgeable and responsible people in place during startup and early commercialization.

How We Manage Process safety at KMCO (Greg Milewski)

  • Reduce exposure to the risk associated with the Hazards of business. Ensure no unmanaged risk.
  • Focus on the critical items: inventory of hazards chemical, products, equipment, operations processes.
  • Prevent hazards into developing an undesirable event by putting barriers in between the hazard and the undesirable event – Hazard controls.
  • Focus on critical barriers and the critical activities and positions

Process Safety Opportunities for SME Chemical Companies (Dana Cooper)

  • Aim to achieve 100 percent employee participation. Engagement drives participation
  • Employee engagement is the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work
  • To create stronger relationships, as a means to boost employee participation, leaders must communicate, allow for more control of work, create accountability, make sure people feel like they matter, and be available and be engaged
  • Invite employees to co-create the sort of process safety culture in which they want to live

Continuity Plans for Operation by Dana Cooper (Disaster Planning Panel)

  • Stakeholder continuity planning involves business impact analysis, recovery strategies, plan development and testing and exercises.
  • Social media impact - Include social media plan, policy and monitoring for community outreach, crisis management, good news, events and safe communities.

Chemical Operator Training Program

  • Collaboration and partnering with education institution has been effective to both the member company and the institution
  • Operators have both resources and incentive to develop skills and progress
  • Process change, technology changes, and people come and go. This creates a constant need for re-tooling and re-training incumbent workers
  • There is great benefits for online training: convenience, highly suitable for shift operations, cost savings
  • Existing workforce must be trained from within – Lidell Greenway, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College 

For more information about the 2017 National Chemical Safety Symposium, contact our ChemStewards team at

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