3 Mar, 2015

Process Safety and Low Oil Prices

In the past, low oil prices have contributed to market conditions like we see today. Corporate cost cutting during these low oil price events have contributed to process safety incidents years later. In 2008, the United States Chemical Safety Board (CSB) Chairman John Bresland provided a reminder to oil companies that it is important to stay focused on process safety, even when prices are low. This was accomplished through a press release and a video safety message that is appropriate for this time [1].

Low oil prices, combined with striking workers at US refineries, increase the challenges faced by managers to insure that process safety is a core value of the organization.

Containing overhead and operating costs during these market conditions may lead some to take shortcuts and make hasty decisions without considering all the process safety implications of these decisions. The press release and video safety message below is as appropriate today as it was in 2008. This video message would be an excellent safety moment topic and hopefully will allow us to remain focused on process safety.


Originally printed: Dec 22, 2008

In First Video Safety Message, CSB Chairman John Bresland Calls for Industry to Remain Focused on Process Safety, Accident Prevention During Recession

Washington, DC, December 22, 2008 - In his first video safety message, CSB Chairman John Bresland today said that chemical companies and refineries need to continue to invest in process safety and preventive maintenance, even as the economic downturn cuts into sales and profits.

"My safety message for oil and chemical companies is clear: even during economic downturns, spending for needed process safety measures must be maintained," Chairman Bresland stated in the message. He noted that the CSB investigation of the 2005 Texas City refinery disaster linked the accident to corporate spending decisions in the 1990s, when low oil prices triggered cutbacks in maintenance, training, and operator positions at the plant.

 "Unfortunately, around the country, refinery accidents continue to be a concern," Chairman Bresland said, pointing to three major accidents that occurred at refineries in Texas this year, including a fire at a refinery in Tyler last month that fatally burned two workers and forced the refinery to shut down for months. "Today, as gasoline prices remain low, companies should weigh each decision to make sure that the safety of plant workers, contractors, and communities is protected."

Safety Messages are a new communication tool for the agency, consisting of short videos from the Chairman or the other board members. In the coming weeks and months, new messages will be released on a variety of current issues in chemical process safety.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.


Training on process safety is available in a variety of courses, including HS 45 - Risk Based Process Safety Management or PS-2, Fundamentals of Process Safety To enhance process safety engineering skills, we recommend PS 4 - Process Safety Engineering.

By: Clyde Young


  1. United States Chemical Safety Board, Press Release, December 22, 2008.