Process Safety Management: The Key Ingredients

Matthew Powell-Howard, Head of Product Development at NEBOSH, a global provider of health, safety and environmental management qualifications, outlines how companies can ensure process safety is embedded into their organisations

What is Process Safety?

In personal safety we naturally think about the individual and the traditional actions that can be taken to reduce the risk of injury and ill health – for example by avoiding trips, slips and falls.

By comparison, process safety management (PSM) can be rather more complicated. Whilst high hazard industries such as those in the chemical and oil and gas sectors suffer personal accidents like all other workplaces, there is also the potential for a major incident which has the potential to inflict multiple injuries, massive environmental damage and even cause fatalities.

There are many different definitions of what process safety is. The one I like to use comes from the Center for Chemical Process Safety. They define process safety as “a blend of engineering and management skills focused on preventing catastrophic accidents and near misses, particularly structural collapse, explosions, fires and toxic releases associated with loss of containment of energy or dangerous substances such as chemicals or petroleum products”. This means that in reality, process safety is relevant across multiple industries and roles.

So, what needs to happen to make sure that process safety risks are managed? Well, there is no easy answer to this. PSM is complex and it takes resource and absolute commitment at all levels of an organisation. There isn’t room here to cover everything needed in a robust approach, so let’s look at two of the stand-out factors:


Effective health and safety must be led and supported by top management – and this is also true for process safety. Board members have both individual and collective responsibilities in this regard. On a personal level, they need to examine their own process safety behaviours and understanding.   History has shown that if process industry leaders do not fundamentally understand the hazards and risks inherent in their business, unless they are extremely lucky, ignorance may ultimately lead to disaster. Leaders must, when thinking about what they can do collectively, see process safety as a key business risk and therefore properly factor it into Board decisions. As a result, they must be involved, competent (or have competent representation) and be actively engaged in the management of process risk. This is of course a moral, legal and financial imperative for them.

Training and Qualifications

Leaders must provide their staff with the right training at the right level, so that it provides tangible benefits to both process safety management and culture.

To get the best results, organisations should look for specialist health and safety training that once completed will enable the person undertaking that training to “own” their PSM responsibilities. In complex or unique environments, the ability to tailor training to make it sector or even company specific is vital to ensure it is meaningful and relevant.

There are many options when it comes to health and safety training qualifications, but if you’re working in a high hazard environment, you need to think about process safety and find a qualification that specifically addresses this.

For example, NEBOSH developed a joint qualification with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) focusing on process safety management. The NEBOSH HSE Certificate in Process Safety Management is designed to provide a well-rounded understanding of the subject, and ensure participants think about potential risk areas. The learning can be quickly implemented when back at work and encourages those who’ve completed the qualification stop and think about the implications that any action or new process might have on their company’s overall process safety. Such awareness is invaluable in helping to drive positive process safety cultures and performance.


Embedding process safety thinking into an organisation requires the right leadership and the right training. Organisations that achieve this mix will see powerful improvements in their culture, incident levels and overall safety performance.

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