Confusing Personal and Process Safety?

Over at the Process Safety Management (1000+) LinkedIn group is a provocative question, Personal Safety & Process Safety – does management really confuse the two? Do engineers confuse them? The thread began a month ago and has 77 responses and 4 “likes” to date.

The person who began the thread points to recent accidents where the accepted wisdom is that personal safety and process safety are being treated as one or confused at best. This person concludes his post:

Does management really confuse personal safety and process safety? Do they genuinely think that a low LTIR indicates that major incident hazards are under control? Do engineers practising process safety fall for the same trap?

So far, 23 people including the thread’s originator have weighed in. I’ll try to distill some of the ideas I picked up reading the thread. There are also links to some very good articles and presentations, such as Process safety: Blind spots and red flags, AIChE’s Process Safety Leading and Lagging Metric, NPRA’s Process Safety Performance Indicators for the Refining and Petrochemical Industries, IEC 61511 Implementation ‐ The Execution Challenge, and Integrating Strengths of Behavior-Based Safety with Effective Process Safety Management.

On the question, the thread responders were split. For those that felt management and engineering staffs understand the differences, they felt the issues were more with institutionalizing process safety, needing better key performance indicators, and requiring more time and resources to properly address.

Those that felt personal and process safety were confused highlighted the differences in skill sets required, ease versus difficulty in measurements, and cost cutting putting a focus on personal safety at the expense of process safety.

Distilling it down, personal safety has very intuitive, understandable metrics such as lost time accidents and near misses. Process safety needs better measures. The frequency of incidents is much lower, but the impact is often great, or even catastrophic.

Emerson’s Mike Boudreaux pointed to two prior posts on this blog, How We Manage our Companies and Process Safety Lessons Learned where we touched on some of the contrasts between personal and process safety. In this thread, he noted:

My personal experience working as an engineer and a member of a business management team in the chemical industry is that business management/leadership (outside of the process facility) often only sees the LTI [lost time injury] and TRI [total recordable incident] reports and nothing is mentioned about process safety performance. Occupational safety experts (SSHE) are often very skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable about personal protection programs, hazard communication, toxicity, and emergency response, but they don’t necessarily have the right level of competency to manage process safety. This is often the domain of process engineers and process safety organizations. The knowledge, training, experience, and methodologies for the two domains are distinctly different. And so, when the SSHE manager reports on performance at the corporate level, they will typically report on LTI and TRI rates. These are meaningful and valuable metrics for personal safety, but they have very little to do with process safety performance.

Mike also highlighted some of the recent industry accidents that point to an urgent need for an integrated set of leading and lagging process safety performance indicators for more effective monitoring.

If you’re involved in either (or both) personal and process safety, you might find the wisdom shared in this thread worth your time to read.

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Update: Fixed TRI acronym.


  1. Joseph A. Kaulfersch says:
  2. Joseph, Thanks for sharing the link to your article! I really like the front end stage coach driver analogy.

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