I have worked in the PSM consulting business for close to 20 years. When I graduated from college, I did not set out to be a PSM engineer or consultant. PSM was in its formal infancy when I started my career as a chemical engineer with Rohm and Haas. I was fortunate that Rohm and Haas did not separate PSM duties from other process engineering responsibilities, which allowed me learn both as an integrated discipline and not as separate scopes for siloed resources. Today, process safety does not always reside in the hands of process engineering and vice versa.
At PSM conferences and other networking events I sometimes hear people remark that engineers do not like being stuck in PSM. Sometimes I hear someone ask “Why don’t engineers like working in a PSM capacity?” I have also heard several peers remark how process safety is becoming less and less of an engineer’s playground. The common argument is that process safety is not as exciting and challenging as process engineering and does not require the same skillset and critical thinking. Others have relegated process safety to a coordinating activity.
Managing process safety may not seem as sexy or exciting as designing and troubleshooting, but that is the problem…how things seem is not always how things are. We need to manage the perception of process safety against its reality. Below are tasks directly related to process safety:
- Generating P&IDs;
- Developing heat and material balances;
- Developing process design basis documents;
- Defining control systems and cause and effect matrices;
- Experimenting and defining reactivity matrices;
- Writing operating procedures;
- Managing changes to organizations and processes;
- Managing the integrity of piping, instrumentation, equipment, and relief devices;
- Analyzing fire and blast impacts for various hazard scenarios;
- Evaluating human factors of process designs; and
- Assessing and mitigating risks of process operations.
Are the above exercises what engineers imagine when dreaming about designing new processes or troubleshooting existing ones? I hope so. If not, then perhaps we need to redefine process design and troubleshooting. Process engineers are a natural fit for process safety because you cannot do process engineering without process safety. Our mistake is letting the industry believe you can.