Keeping sight of process safety in these challenging times

Keeping sight of process safety in these challenging times

24th September 2020

In today’s blog, IChemE Safety Centre Director Trish Kerin talks about the importance of continuing to raise awareness of managing major hazards during the pandemic.

Name: Trish Kerin

Job title: Director IChemE Safety Centre

As process safety professionals we know that process safety never takes a holiday, and it certainly doesn’t take sick leave for a global pandemic either. We continue to see incidents occur each week and it is unfortunate to note that the circumstances we find ourselves in because of the pandemic contributed to the cause in some cases.

Incidents have taken place on restarting after inadequately planned shut-downs and after handling higher quantities of flammable substances, for example when retooling to manufacture alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

We have also seen incidents caused by equipment failure that wasn’t adequately maintained due to the restrictions and due to the inappropriate storage of oxidizing agents.

As we have seen global travel reduce significantly with many countries closing borders, the challenge for us all is to ensure we can maintain a focus on process safety when our traditional methods are not available.

The IChemE Safety Centre (ISC) team has responded to this challenge by exploring additional and new ways to communicate process safety messages. Thankfully, we were already operating in a virtual world because we are located in different cities, so we didn’t have to start from scratch. This meant we were able to spend our time planning how to increase our outreach to support chemical engineers around the world at this challenging time.

It was important to us to utilise all communication channels available to continue to share safety information with as many people as possible, particularly where lockdown may cause additional process safety issues, and digital channels were clearly the obvious choice for us to do that. Back in January we had set up a YouTube channel to host short incident anniversary videos (follow #minutetolearn on social media). The YouTube channel became invaluable during the pandemic as although we weren’t able to go out and meet people to share our process safety messages in person, it gave us the ability to share some of our previous webinars with a wider population, meaning we could reach a greater number of people.

We also ramped up our new webinar programme (follow #watchtolearn), delivering almost 30 webinars since March 2020. We are delighted that these, along with our previous 12 webinars, have been viewed almost 5000 times!

A recent highlight was a webinar delivered on 21 September featuring Dame Judith Hackitt and  IChemE’s Deputy President, Jane Cutler, who talked about some of their lessons as regulators, as well as their vision for major hazard management. If you missed it, you can view the recording here: Lessons from regulators.


The crux of all this activity was that if we can’t visit you in person, at least we can share safety messages with you virtually. To do this we have expanded our communication channels beyond LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram by adding Facebook, and we have seen our follower numbers increase every month. This is not just about a popularity contest though, this all means that the safety messages we are sharing are being received by more and more people around the world.

I have also enjoyed recording podcasts to reach people (follow #listentolearn), including those with the Chemical Processing magazine called Process Safety with Trish and Traci  where we have discussed a huge range of topics and incidents. You can check those out here: Process Safety Podcasts.

We now have all our Safety Lore topics covered in written, podcast and webinar form – so no matter where you are, or how you learn best, we have a format for you. Some of our work is translated into Spanish, so we are reaching even more people.  

During these difficult times, it has been great to see that the work we have been doing is helping people with their process safety. I’m delighted that companies have continued to recognise the importance of process safety and, because of this, the ISC has gained some new members during this time, as well as receiving a number of positive messages from our members and followers, thanking us and sharing what they have learned.

In this virtual world, it does not matter where you are, you can still access practical and valuable information to help you manage your major hazards. The ISC is here to help you and share the lessons for everyone.