100 years of catastrophic accidents leads to a safer Process Industry

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

So much to be learned from taking a look at the history of “safety standards”…

In the last 100 years many catastrophic accidents have occurred in process industry around the world: Bhopal India (1984); Three Mile Island, US (1979); Seveso, Italy (1976); Cubatao, Brasil (1974); Exxon Valdez, Alaska (1989); Chernobyl, Ukraine (1986); Flixborough, UK (1974); San Juan Ixhuatepec, Mexico (1984), Piper Alpha, North Sea, UK (1988), BP Texas City (2005); Deepwater Horizon, Gulf of Mexico, Texas (2010), etc.

If the cost of all the accidents were totalized the result would be billions of dollars, here are some examples:


Safety regulation entities were created as a result of certain accidents and have been evolving and extending through the years:

   *   DuPont (USA) 1818: An explosion at a gun powder factory killed 40 people and $120K in damages. As a result they became pioneers on “Safety is a Management Responsibility”.

   *  Flixborough (UK) 1974: The safety regulation, Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH), was created and at first it excluded offshore, but after the Piper Alpha offshore accident the regulation was extended.

   *  Seveso (Italy) 1976:  European Community created the Seveso II Directive.

    *  Bhopal(India) 1984: The US chemical industry formed the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) within the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

   *  Norco,La., 1988;Pasadena,TX, 1989; and Channelview,TX, 1990: contributed to the approval of the US OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) 29 CRF 1910.199 (Process Safety Management (PSM) of Highly Hazardous Chemicals) in 1992.

We have learned from these catastrophes and many entities have published recommendations and regulations as a result (OSHA, IEC, ISA, ANSI, CCPS, HSE and more).

After all the investigations of the accidents to determine the conditions and circumstances which led up to the events and to identify the cause or causes so that similar events might be prevented, some conclusions for safe plant operations were developed:

  •     Leadership, organization and accountability
  •     Hazards must be identified and understood
  •     Proper plant and equipment must be ‘fit for purpose’
  •     Safe work procedures and work permits, proper communications
  •     Competence and capable staff
  •     Emergency preparedness
  •     Monitor performance

Those conclusions are embedded in the Safety Instrumented Systems standards throughout the “Safety lifecycle”.

In 1996 the International Society of Automation (ISA) published the first version of ANSI/ISA 84.00.01-2004 “Application of Safety Instrumented Systems (SIS) for Process Industries”.  A second version was approved in 2004 (only addition with “Grandfather Clause”).  OSHA recognized this standard as a good engineering practice (RAGAGEP) for establishing SIS under PSM.

Under the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), an international committee worked on a SIS standard. The IEC 61511 standard Parts 1-3 ‘Functional Safety: Safety Instrumented Systems for the Process Industry Sector’ was published in 2004.  Experts involved in ISA-SP84 were also involved in the IEC61511.

In the US, it is common to find a literature notation about these safety standards as: ANSI/ISA 84.00.01-2004 (IEC 61511 Mod).  In the rest of the world, it is better known as IEC 61511.

What else can we learn from looking at the history of “safety standards”?  I am very interested to hear your thoughts on safety in the Process Industry.



  • Leopoldo Castilllo

    11 years ago

    Very good information that allows us to better understand the importance of safety applications , regulations and procedures to follow in order to keep personnel and installations safe

  • I am impressed by your command of history. I am a safety professional and history buff and I would give you an A+ grade on both. My Oil Rig Safety Blog – oilrigsafetydude.com could use a good commentator like you for new material or just potential research topics that I can look into for the blog.

    • Sharon Smith

      8 years ago

      Thank you Tony for your nice comments in reference to this blog.

Comments are closed.