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New Industry Initiative Elevating Process Safety

This article was originally published on BIC Magazine's website

There’s nothing like a little teamwork. In 2020, the Texas Chemical Council (TCC) board of directors launched the appropriately titled Texas Chemical Council Process Safety Education Initiative, a new effort designed to elevate the process safety performance of the oil and gas and petrochemical industry in several significant areas.           

One of the most impactful results of the program has been an innovative educational partnership between the TCC; LyondellBasell Center for Petrochemical, Energy and Technology (CPET) at San Jacinto College; and the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center (MKOPSC) at Texas A&M University. 

“This is where we are noncompetitive. We are teammates,” said Rich Wells, vice president of operations for Dow. “We recognized early last year that we, as industry, have an opportunity. Our industry had experienced a rash of process safety events that certainly caused interruption to the companies it impacts. It caused significant life-changing injuries. It impacts our entire industry.”           

Guided by representatives from member companies, the TCC board of directors birthed an action plan to improve process safety performance across the industry. 

“I couldn’t be more pleased to offer this education that is necessary for all of our processing companies out there — not just chemical plants, but also things like terminals and refineries,” Wells said. “Through this series, we’re going to raise knowledge and expertise about process safety. That will improve our process safety performance, [help us] continue to be very, very good neighbors to the state of Texas, and continue to serve society in the way that we should.”           

Bill Efaw, associate process safety director for Dow, said the program, available now at San Jacinto College, “is tailored to incumbent workers, operators, technicians, supervisors and engineers [as the] primary audience.”           

Efaw noted that only 11 out of the 300 engineering colleges in the U.S. address process safety as part of their curriculum.           

“Some companies have very good training programs, and some wish they had, but your incumbent workers and process safety management folks could definitely benefit from the four-part training course,” he said.           

According to David Stacy, process safety and technical services manager for Eastman Chemical Co., designing the curriculum has been a challenge. The base curriculum for this course was geared around graduate and undergraduate-level engineering students.           

“But I think we’ve made good progress in making the curriculum available to a wide berth of students,” Stacy said.           

Stacy and other subject matter experts also act as lecturers, delivering some of the course work in the virtual lecture session.

Experiential learning opportunity   

Stacy observed that students having access to a lab that simulates experiential learning has been one of the most interesting aspects of the curriculum.           

“We’ve been through programs where you might get a lecture and maybe a tabletop kind of exercise, but you really don’t get to go hands-on, so we’re working to make our labs very hands-on,” he said. “You won’t be out there just trying to run a distillation column or the units, but we’re gearing it to what you’d to be doing around process safety. You’re going to get to practice participation in a process hazard analysis (PHA), and do a PHA as one of the lab sessions.”

There are also plans to provide simulated incident training in the plant.

“We’re trying to build a practical laboratory setting …where we can have multiple representatives from different companies share their companies’ expertise and techniques … allowing people to learn more than they might learn from a lecture or a three- or four-day training program,” Stacy concluded. “The uniqueness of this is layers deep in multiple directions. It gives lots of opportunity for this to be a great program.”

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