How to qualify to effectively manage process safety

The safety of process plant is paramount and unites us all.

Despite efforts to avoid major incidents and losses, Buncefield, Deepwater Horizon and many more before and since are names sadly remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Loss of life, injuries, and negative impacts on communities, the environment and businesses are intolerable.

The process industries are highly aware of their responsibilities and companies strive to ensure that safety is 'designed in' right from the feasibility studies stage and that plant operations are managed with excellence in process safety as the highest priority. [Pictured alongside is Neil Atkinson.]

Despite this focus, there is always scope for improvement.

One particular issue seen worldwide is the shortage of professionals who are demonstrably skilled across the process safety field i.e. having knowledge and competence in hazard identification, safety studies, loss prevention engineering and more. 

It may come as a surprise then that up until now there has been no internationally recognised qualification in the process safety field.

How then can companies have full confidence in their abilities to deliver sound process designs and/or operate with safety excellence?

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) has for many years the only organisation licenced to award Chartered Chemical Engineer status. This internationally recognised qualification is the 'global standard' for chemical and process engineers all over the world.

Applications for chartered status are assessed via peer review and candidates are required to demonstrate their chemical engineering expertise and experience via written report, references and interview.

There are almost 1000 Chartered Chemical Engineers in Australia.

The same principles will underpin the Institution's new process safety qualification – PEng (process safety).

We want to provide practitioners with a recognised, respected qualification at the same professional level of Chartered Engineer or Professional Engineer. IChemE is well positioned to provide the qualification because of its long-established pedigree in operating peer-review based qualifications and because of its leadership and strength in process safety.

With members all around the world there is great opportunity to reach and encourage process safety professionals to put themselves forward for qualification. 

But the qualification is applicable beyond the world of chemical engineering and is open to anyone in a senior process safety role.

Applicants are required to be Chartered in their relevant discipline and will have to make a supported application that provides evidence from their professional practice of experience and application of knowledge across a range of competencies. 

PEng (process safety) competencies

  • technical safety principles and aspects
  • hazard identification
  • assessment of consequences
  • control of hazards
  • risk assessment
  • application of regulations
  • protection of the public
  • incident investigation and lessons learned
  • emergency planning
  • process safety management

Russell Scott is chief executive of Melbourne headquartered Uhde Oil & Gas and is supporting the qualification: "The skills demands of the expanding and increasingly global process industries are acute and immediate. And nowhere is this more evident than in the field of technical process safety.

"Incidents on High Hazard sites still occur all too frequently, despite advances in technology and the best intentions of employees.

"The new registration will require candidates to satisfy a robust, rigorous Peer Review, conducted by fellow process safety professionals and that can only be a good thing for industry," adds Scott who is also IChemE president.

Helen Fennell, Petrofac Engineering and Consulting's manager for risk, safety and environment, has been closely involved with the creation of the qualification. "We welcome this initiative which could have huge impact across industry," she says. 

"I personally hope that by achieving this qualification, Petrofac's process safety engineers will be able to gain international recognition as competent practitioners in the field of technical process safety.

"They will be able to demonstrate to clients and peers that they are competent safety engineers and committed to high standards of professional conduct," adds Fennell.

In addition to having a broad knowledge of process safety principles, applicants will be expected to demonstrate technical leadership in one or more of these areas with knowledge of how they relate to process safety as a whole. 

In our experience, it is likely that most candidates will have between four and six years' direct professional experience in the field of process safety to be able to build sufficient experience and competencies to acquire the qualification.

References will be taken, the candidate's submission report will be independently reviewed by a qualified safety professional and the candidate will be interviewed by two safety professionals before an additional panel decides to make the PEng (process safety) qualification award.

Selected industry fields and sectors employing professional technical process safety engineers

  • technical area
  • process plant operation
  • safety in design
  • computer applications
  • project management and administration
  • instrumentation and control
  • regulatory organisations
  • teaching and training
  • research
  • design of process plant and equipment

Professional process safety engineers can be found in many fields across various industry sectors. IChemE understands this and recognises that there are many opportunities to gain training and experience across a wide range of roles in industry, and academia. Applications are anticipated from many different fields.

Industry experts are enthusiastic about the new qualification. 

IChemE has just staged its Hazards process safety conference in the UK and interest in the new qualification was tangible. The Institution stages its sister Hazards event in Malaysia next April where the first qualified PEng (process safety) candidates will be announced.

Late this year, IChemE stages its first Hazards Australasia event where the first cohort of Australian PEng (process safety) practitioners will take centre stage.

Working with experts from within the community we serve, IChemE will soon take an important step in assuring the safety of the process industries, and with it the people who work in it and the environment and communities that surround it.

[Neil Atkinson is IChemE's director of qualifications and international development.]

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