This blog is adapted from an interview that an EH&S industry player conducted with Aberdeen research analyst Greg Cline on the Reality of Risk. Greg manages Aberdeen’s Manufacturing and Product Innovation & Engineering research practice.

In manufacturing, risk is often managed differently across the organization, making plant and asset risk difficult to see clearly. Manufacturers need to ensure that everyone assesses risk by the same criteria and has a practical understanding of how their decisions can directly or indirectly influence risk and safety processes. Process Safety Management (PSM) is emerging as one of the best methods of keeping people safe while ensuring sustainable production.

So, what is the reality of risk today? This Q&A with Aberdeen analyst, Greg Cline, discusses what happens when process safety intent meets reality. This includes how we think we manage risk, how we actually manage it, and how we can improve it practically and tangibly.

1. Industry regulation is at an all-time high. Every operator is committed to safety and risk avoidance. So why do you think incidents and accidents still happen?

GC: Incidents and accidents depend on many things, including the regulatory environment and the overall level of safety awareness. Often, it’s just human nature. People try to prepare and create a culture of safety, but slip-ups happen. When it comes to eliminating incidents and accidents, we need to focus on human factors.

2. Is there a gap between what process safety KPIs and operational management systems are telling us and the feeling on the front line?

GC: There’s always a gap, and there shouldn’t be. We need to put capabilities in place to minimize gaps and ensure metrics are available enterprise-wide. Also, it’s important that peoples’ perception of certain metrics match the reality of operations.

3. Does the reality of risk management measure up to the intent of risk management?

GC: Real safety happens on the ground when people internalize it and don’t view it as a burden on everyday business. That means risk exposure must be made visible, prominent, and available so everyone can understand its impact.

4. Do you think the relationship between Process Safety Management (PSM) and operational risk management is close enough?

GC: No! I think PSM is always aspirational, and the relationship between process safety and its impact on front-line operations can be better understood.

5. Who is responsible for managing risk?

GC: In our most recent Aberdeen Group environmental, health, and safety study, about a third of respondents have a formal risk management organization in place. That’s presumably how they establish a framework for risk management. Does it build risk awareness into the culture of the entire organization? It can. Whether those companies also have the necessary collaborative approach across business units to make it happen, is another question.

6. What critical process safety information do people need who make the daily decisions about operating a plant?

GC: When we talk about making daily decisions, operational data must correlate with the management of process safety, and vice versa. Management needs to analyze the plant and the processes related to PSM. And then this needs to be incorporated into operational dashboards in an actionable way.

7. How well informed are front line leaders and workers about the role of process safety barriers?

GC: I think building a culture with the right tools, right attitudes, and right training can enhance the awareness of process safety barriers by making them part of the standard operating procedures of front line leaders and workers.

8. What are the current obstacles to access this information in a timely manner and how can they be eliminated?

GC: The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is enabling the capability to monitor and improve processes to ensure they’re safe. Safety must be implicit. I think, to the extent that operators can connect operations with the right information, via IIoT or another framework, they can overcome risk.

9. How can operators maintain their safety and risk management standards over time?

GC: Safety and risk factors change all the time, so best practices must be responsive to changing conditions. Creative solutions can help organizations maintain and actually improve their safety performance over time.

For more on the state of operational risk management (ORM), check out: Optimizing Organizational Performance with Operational Risk Management