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Implementing process safety starts in the Boardroom

The president of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Judith Hackitt CBE, has called for a change in the mindset and culture at the very top of organisations towards process safety, starting with the Boardroom.

Hackitt made her comments by live video link to delegates at IChemE’s inaugural Hazards Australasia conference in Perth.

Speaking of the leadership challenge ahead, she said: “Boards who do not focus on process safety have a very serious gap in their Corporate Risk register and are potentially taking a gamble with the survival of their business.

“All high hazard industries have to make a commitment to leadership in process safety. Society is becoming less and less tolerant of mistakes… We are not yet at the point where process safety is part of the DNA of running a major hazards business”.

During her speech, Hackitt, who is also chair of the Great Britain Health and Safety Executive, went on to describe how the Boardroom needs to behave towards process safety.

She said: “We need leaders who know what they don’t know and are willing to learn. “We need leaders who can live with a chronic sense of unease and who can spot the warning signs of complacency creeping in.

“And we need leaders to give the same priority to process safety wherever they are in the world – because the threat of process related incidents occurring is the same worldwide”.

Hazards Australasia is one of a series of major conferences hosted by IChemE across the world to improve safety in the chemical and process industries. So far this year, nearly 80 accidents have been reported in the sector killing 244 people and injuring over 800 others.

IChemE’s president also used the opportunity to send a message to process safety professionals about their role in culture change.

Hackitt said: “Be clear that your role is to create unease, not to provide false reassurance. It is essential that we all focus on this need for a culture of constant unease…which replaces complacency.

“In this new world there will also be a positive desire to learn from others and to share knowledge and experience so that lessons do not have to be re-learned time and time again in different organisations.”

Hazards Australasia was held on 26-27 November 2013 at the Hyatt Regency Perth. Other speakers included: Bill Marmion – Minister for mines and petroleum, housing; Vince Santostefano – chief operations officer, Woodside; Michael Toooma – partner and head of occupational health, safety and security (Asia Pacific), Norton Rose Fulbright; and US aviation veteran, Captain Keith Martinsen.

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