Process Safety Management (PSM)

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Process safety management (PSM) is a system of preventive measures that companies use to identify and manage risks associated with chemical processes. The goal of PSM is to prevent incidents from occurring, and if they do occur, to minimize their effects. Implementing PSM can help protect your workers, the environment, and your bottom line. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what PSM is and how it can benefit your business.

What is Process Safety Management?

The ability to manage hazardous chemicals effectively can make a huge difference in the success of a business. For processes involving Highly Hazardous Chemicals (HHCs), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a process safety management standard. This is a framework to manage processes and systems that handle hazardous substances in a disciplined manner. The main goals of PSM are to prevent:

  • Unplanned releases of hazardous materials
  • Accidental release of energy
  • Structural failure or loss of stability that could result in a major incident.

The OSHA regulation led to the use of the term process safety management. So, many now use the term more widely and it includes technology, procedures, and management frameworks.

What are Highly Hazardous Chemicals (HHCs)?

You can find the list of HHCs in Appendix A of the OSHA PSM standard. However, safety managers may also find it helpful to understand the basic definitions of toxic, reactive, flammable, and explosive. These are all characteristics or properties of HHCs:

  • Toxic Material – An airborne agent that may cause acute adverse health effects in humans.
  • Reactive Material – Substances that undergo chemical reactions with other substances.
  • Flammable – A gas that can ignite and burn with a flame after mixing with a gaseous oxidizer like air.
  • Explosive – Chemicals that can suddenly release pressure, gas, and heat when subjected to shock, pressure, or high temperature.

Occupational Safety vs. Process Safety Management

Occupational safety management and process safety management are often confused. But, you can distinguish the two by the scale of failures they seek to avoid. The purpose of process safety management is to prevent large-scale disasters, such as explosions. Rather, occupational safety management aims to prevent incidents at the individual level, such as falls. Furthermore, hazards related to occupational safety are more common, but you can address them through smaller-scale interventions. Alternatively, process safety hazards are generally more difficult to address. In simple terms, process safety is about what you’re doing, and occupational safety is about how you’re doing it.

Who Needs to Comply with PSM?

As stated in Appendix A, OSHA’s process safety management standard applies to processes involving chemicals in quantities greater than the determined threshold. It also applies to processes involving category one flammable gases or liquids with flashpoints below 100°F (37.8°C) and in quantities of at least 10,000 pounds (4535.9 kg).

If you keep flammable liquids below their normal boiling point and use hydrocarbon fuels only for workplace consumption, you are not required to comply with PSM. Additionally, PSM does not apply to oil and gas well drilling and servicing operations, retail facilities, and remote sites that are normally unoccupied.

The 14 Elements of Process Safety Management

According to OSHA, process safety management programs should include 14 key elements. These 14 elements include:

  1. Process Safety Information – Employees need basic information about the hazards associated with the chemicals and tools they use at work.
  2. Process Hazard Analysis – Identifying potential hazards in processes and operations is a key part of this analysis. Nevertheless, organizations must first identify the actual risks in their facilities to manage them.
  3. Operating Procedures – Safety protocols should be consistent and well-established.
  4. Hot Work Permit – Any work with fire or other sources of ignition must be authorized and overseen according to a systematic procedure.
  5. Emergency Preparedness and Response – A disaster recovery plan should be in place if something goes wrong.
  6. Mechanical Integrity – Equipment safety risks must be tracked and evaluated by businesses.
  7. Pre-startup Safety Review – Before introducing hazardous substances into the workplace, businesses must thoroughly assess new or modified facilities.
  8. Training Management – You must properly teach safety procedures to employees and provide ongoing refresher training.
  9. Management of Change – Business owners should analyze how changes will affect risk throughout their facility when processes change.
  10. Incident Investigation – Businesses must have a systematic approach to recording, tracking, investigating, reporting, and analyzing incidents and near-misses.
  11. Contractor Safety Management – Process safety management systems should be in place to ensure the safety of contractors and subcontractors in addition to employees.
  12. Compliance Audits – You should conduct regular audits to ensure compliance with process safety procedures and processes.
  13. Employee Involvement – Providing employees with access to policy documents for acknowledgment and sign-off.
  14. Trade Secrets – To ensure employee health and safety, all materials and processes, including trade secrets, must be documented thoroughly and provided to employees.

A Critical Component of Every Business

While process safety management applies to very specific hazardous chemicals, its 14 elements are a great foundation for the safety management of any business, regardless of the industry. By understanding what PSM is and implementing its 14 elements, businesses can protect their employees and products, and remain OSHA compliant. The multidimensional approach blending technology and management is an excellent example to follow.

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