Developing leading indicators for process safety

12 October 2015
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Several organisations collect and report on “lag indicators” in process safety, such as fires, explosions and hydrocarbon releases. APPEA’s new safety data portal will also collect such metrics.

Lag indicators measure events that have occurred and their consequences (such as lost hours, injuries and fatalities). But only using lagging indicators of safety performance fails to measure how well a company or industry is doing at preventing incidents and accidents.

In contrast, leading indicators focus on future safety performance and continuous improvement. These measures show what people and organisations are doing on a regular basis to prevent accidents and injuries. They indicate proactive systems and behaviours, and they aid risk assessment and prediction of possible events.

Process safety events usually occur as a result of a combination of ‘hard to see’ and often complex factors. The relative rarity of these events means the absence of an incident is no predictor of the risk of an event. Therefore, Australian petroleum industry leaders and regulators have identified that the effective lead indicators must be developed.

In 2014-15, the IChemE Safety Centre (ISC) developed a common set of leading metrics for process safety.  These are designed to be qualitative, which enables adoption by a diverse range of companies across multiple industries. For more information, see this link.

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) is a UK-based organisation that oversees the chemical engineering profession internationally. In 2013, several APPEA member companies agreed to work with IChemE and fund the establishment of the ISC for an initial three years through APPEA.  The ISC is broadening its member base and networks around the world to foster leading-edge thinking in process safety on a global basis.  This is an opportunity for APPEA members to contribute to global best practice.