Refineries and petrochemical plants play an increasingly important role in supplying the world’s fuel and energy needs, while also producing a diverse suite of products and materials that people use in daily life.
While standing at the forefront of meeting energy demand, the natural gas and oil industry is doing so with operational safety and environmental protection at the core of its integrity management programs. Recognizing that safety is the industry’s number one priority, the American Petroleum Institute (API) has established safety and assessment programs that support this mission.
One of these programs, the Process Safety Site Assessment Program (PSSAP®), was launched a decade ago by API as part of the Advancing Process Safety Initiative with the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM). Since then, PSSAP has become a valued industry program, serving to promote safety through its petrochemical and refining facility assessments based on API’s best-in-class safety standards and protocols.
More recently, API launched the PSSAP Focused program in 2020 to offer its assessment expertise and analytical prowess to smaller chemical and petrochemical facilities. API’s industry members, together with PSSAP’s assessment team, recognized the importance of providing these smaller sites with support, and tailored PSSAP Focused to meet their needs.
On the Ground with PSSAP
PSSAP’s team of assessors conduct site assessments to help a diverse array of facilities identify the effectiveness of their process safety programs as well as areas for improvement. These assessors are highly qualified experts with vast industry knowledge based on decades of field experience.
“The assessors average over 30 years of practical application of process safety across many industries,” said a LyondellBasell safety official after the company went through the PSSAP assessment. “All were recognized as leaders in the process safety community.”
The knowledge and experience of the PSSAP assessors have contributed to the program’s accolades over the years for its ability to give operators a better picture of how well their facilities meet the highest level of API process safety standards and integrity management practices.
“In our experience, the API process safety site assessment was one of the most effective and efficient safety benchmarking efforts,” said a safety officer with Western Refining and PSSAP client. “It helped us identify and prioritize process safety improvement opportunities and allowed our staff to tap the vast knowledge of the API assessors.”
“The API assessment protocol is a blueprint for an effective process safety management program,” the officer added.
The PSSAP Process
A site assessment typically follows two separate activities. First, assessors examine a facility’s written operational process safety plans and procedures. This is done to understand the management system in place that governs the associated process safety programs.
The second part of the assessment involves the PSSAP team spending time in the field at the facility to examine how the company implements process safety standards, policies, and procedures in practice. PSSAP assesses facilities’ process safety activities using a diverse set of protocols to evaluate both the quality of written programs and the effectiveness of field implementation, as well as promote learning from the sharing of experiences and successful practices across the industry. Developed by industry subject matter experts, these protocols cover key areas of process safety needed to drive performance improvement.
In the last two years, new protocols – Product Storage & Transfer and Incident Learning – were added to PSSAP after identification by industry experts that such protocols would help industry improve process safety programs. These new protocols demonstrate the ongoing evolution of API’s program to help the industry improve its safety and integrity management practices.
The PSSAP protocols have also been utilized in the development of PSSAP Focused. This new program is tailored to cover key process safety topics in a shorter timeframe, while still evaluating items deemed as high priority in a normal PSSAP assessment.
PSSAP Focused was designed to service smaller refineries, petrochemical complexes, chemical sites, and other facilities that may have deemed a PSSAP assessment out of their reach. PSSAP Focused covers the key areas of the 7 original protocols, while requiring smaller teams and less time on site. The tailored program encourages more companies and sites to improve their safety practices but with lower upfront costs. It provides these other sectors with the opportunity to participate and continue to strive toward the shared goal of zero process safety incidents.
PSSAP is now serving the refining, petrochemical and chemical industries through its full and tailored assessment offerings. Large companies like Marathon Petroleum Corporation, the largest refining company in the U.S., have come to see the benefit of utilizing API’s PSSAP at their refineries.
“The Assessors were very experienced, knowledgeable,” according to a senior Marathon safety official at the Robinson Refinery in Illinois. “We definitely uncovered some blind spots during the assessment that we’ve since developed plans to address. Overall, a great and worthwhile program.”
The industry stands in agreement that safety assessments are a key part of meeting the industry’s safety, environmental, and sustainability goals into the future.
“API believes that the success of the industry is aided by the effectiveness of its safety protocols and assessments,” API Segment Standards and Services Vice President Alexa Burr said. “PSSAP has a proven track record of helping the industry promote the use of process safety good practices, while continuing to evolve to ensure its assessments are available to a diverse range of small and large facilities and take into account the latest industry standards.”