Process safety and individual safety are two parts of the lab manager's job

Process Safety vs Individual Safety

“Process safety” and “individual safety” are two terms tossed around quite liberally in the literature.  Here’s a quick way to distinguish them:

  • Process safety is safety that is inherent in the process in question.
  • Individual safety is the safety that comes as a function of the individual question.

Let’s take the chap in the above image as an example.  He’s doing a dangerous job that needs protection.  On the one hand, he is protected by the equipment, the plan of approach, the safety belts and ropes he is using etc.  On the other, he is protected by the training he’s had, the personal skills he has and so on.  That’s the difference in a nutshell.

Or to put it a third way, it’s process safety if you can sit down in a quiet room somewhere with paper, rulers and lots of pens and pencils, and work on it.  It’s personal safety if you are relying on the abilities of the person in question.

As I keep saying, the essence of lab management is getting 100% safety out of 5% attention.  That’s the difference between the average lab worker and the young man depicted up there.  That young man is always aware of the long drop and the consequences of making a mistake.  That’s just not true of the average lab worker – even the most attentive needs to make a consistent effort to remember this clear liquid is not like the clear liquid she drinks every day – this clear liquid can kill her from skin contact.

So in practice you need to put your focus on process safety.  That’s going to be your bread and butter.  For example, what is your process for getting rid of toxic waste?  What’s your process for preventing dangerous cross-reactions in toxic waste?  What about the dangers of chemical storage?  How do you deal with that?


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