European process safety guru says 'macho culture' creates more accidents

Trevor Kletz, one of the world’s most revered experts on process safety, has cited industry’s ‘macho culture’ as one of the main causes of recent accidents.

Kletz, who spent almost forty years at ICI before forging a second career as an author on process safety and loss prevention, says that while there has been no deliberate decision to spend less on safety, many senior managers have taken their eye off the ball and that a macho approach to ‘get stuck in’ has been the underlying cause of recent incidents.

His comments were shared with an audience of 250 chemical and process engineers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at the Hazards Asia Pacific process safety conference, organized by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) and the Chemical Industries Council of Malaysia (CICM).

“Many workers don’t see the need to follow all the rules or the permit-to-work procedures,” said Kletz. “Our job, they say, is to get stuck in and get the job done, not fill in forms. In time this macho approach becomes the local custom and practice.”

But Kletz warned that simply blaming senior management for putting the pursuit of money ahead of safety is wrong.

“It’s easy to point the finger at the management and assume that a culture of cutting corners started at the top. It is worth remembering that the same culture can also originate at the bottom, driven by the desire to get the job done. The task of management is to know this and make sure it’s done properly.”

Kletz, a Fellow of IChemE, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Academy of Engineering, was unable to attend the event in person and his written remarks were delivered by IChemE director of policy and communication Andrew Furlong.

Furlong said that Kletz’s message left some audience members uncomfortable but that his points needed to be made.

“Industry leaders must recognize that a workplace culture which is entirely ‘production focused’ places lives at risk,” Furlong said.

Delegates from 20 countries are in Kuala Lumpur this week for the event. Other keynote speakers include representatives from PETRONAS, Tianjin University, China, Malaysia’s department of occupational safety and health, and the UK Health and Safety Executive.

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