The Evolution of Process Safety: Current Status and Future Direction

Authors:M. Sam Mannan, Olga Reyes-Valdes, Prerna Jain,Nafiz Tamim, and Monir Ahammad

Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas 77843-3122; email:


The advent of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century increased the volume and variety of manufactured goods and enriched the quality of life for society as a whole. However, industrialization was also accompanied by new manufacturing and complex processes that brought about the use of hazardous chemicals and difficult-to-control operating conditions. Moreover, human-process-equipment interaction plus on-the-job learning resulted in further undesirable outcomes and associated consequences. These problems gave rise to many catastrophic process safety incidents that resulted in thousands of fatalities and injuries, losses of property, and environmental damages. These events led eventually to the necessity for a gradual development of a new multidisciplinary field, referred to as process safety. From its inception in the early 1970s to the current state of the art, process safety has come to represent a wide array of issues, including safety culture, pro- cess safety management systems, process safety engineering, loss prevention, risk assessment, risk management, and inherently safer technology. Governments and academic/research organizations have kept pace with regulatory programs and research initiatives, respectively. Understanding how major incidents impact regulations and contribute to industrial and academic technology development provides a firm foundation to address new challenges, and to continue applying science and engineering to develop and implement programs to keep hazardous materials within containment. Here the most significant incidents in terms of their impact on regulations and the overall development of the field of process safety are described.