Process Safety vs. Personal Safety

Stephanie McCauley

Process Safety Management vs. Personal Safety

Process Safety vs. Personal Safety

For anyone working in safety or in a high-risk industry such as a refinery or manufacturing plant, you’re probably heard the term process safety. In several key ways, process safety is different from occupational health and safety, so why should you know the difference? How can it affect workers onsite if you are already focusing on personal and behavioral safety? Today, we’ll break down the differences so you can understand how these different schools of thought can have a measurable impact on the overall safety of your site.

Personal Safety

Personal safety, also known as occupational health and safety, deals with the individual worker or employee. To mitigate risks, most companies practice this type of safety by ensuring all employees understand the risks of their job duties, along with any inherent risks in their work environment, and wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE). This multidisciplinary field strives to protect the health and safety of workers, but may also protect customers, other employees not directly related to the job at hand, as well as other persons who may interact with the worksite and its environment.

The concept of occupational health and safety gained prominence in the 20th century as a result of health concerns arising among factory workers subjected to poor working conditions. Moreover, the field has evolved rapidly in recent decades, especially with the implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), as well as a wide range of laws aimed to better maintain safe and healthy working environments for employees.

Process Safety

On the other hand, process safety is an even more recent development in the field of safety. Process safety is primarily aimed at putting in place controls to mitigate the risk of major and potentially catastrophic events in the workplace. These can include fires, explosions, or even accidental chemical releases. While the tools used to achieve both personal and process safety may be the same in some cases (e.g. LOTO and the Permit to Work), in other cases the methods of mitigating risk are vastly different. For example, a layers of protection analysis is a process safety-specific tool while PPE is typically viewed as a personal safety control.

Incident Frequencies

Some principal differences between process safety and personal safety are the frequency which these incidents occur and their outcomes. Process safety incidents, though they can be catastrophic and cause significant loss of life or grievous injury, occur much less frequently than personal safety incidents. Most worksites won’t experience a major process safety incident, and minor process safety incidents tend to occur at a lesser rate than their personal safety counterparts.

Furthermore, process safety events tend to concentrate on preventing hazardous releases of chemicals, energy, or any other hazardous material that can threaten a company’s operations and cause serious damage to person or property. Conversely, personal safety is designed to prevent more common incidents, such as falls, manual handling incidents, or personal injury from contact with biological, chemical or electrical agents.

Mitigation Systems vs. Behavioral Changes

Another key difference between process safety and personal safety is that process safety tends to focus on mitigating risks through the inherent design of a system, whereas personal safety focuses on enforcing behavioral changes in individual workers and teams in order to prevent incidents. Additionally, process safety is tasked with examining the impact of hazards on all workers, the environment, property, along with any reputational risks that may be experienced by the company.

Which is Most Important?

When it comes to process safety vs. personal safety, both are crucial in maintaining overall safety, with neither safety discipline being more significant than the other. Companies should strive to strike a balance between both process and personal safety in order to prevent incidents, small or large, from impacting their operations.

To see how we can solve your site's process and personal safety needs, check out our products and services here or call us at (866) 329-5407 today. 

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