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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  2. Every year new safety features and regulations are employed within the process industry to reduce risks associated with operations. Despite these advancements chemical plants remain hazardous places, and the role of the engineer will always involve risk mitigation through real time decision making. Results from a previous study by Kongsvik et al., 2015 indicated that there were three types of decisions in major chemical plants: strategic decisions, operational decisions, and instantaneous decisions. The study showed the importance for improving upon engineers’ operational and instantaneous choices when tasked with quick solutions in the workforce. In this research study, we dive deepermore »to understand how senior chemical engineering students’ prioritize components of decision making such as budget, productivity, relationships, safety, and time, and how this prioritization may change as a result of participation in a digital immersive training environment called Contents Under Pressure. More specifically, we seek to address the following two research questions: (1) How do senior chemical engineering students prioritize safety in comparison to criteria such as budget, personal relationships, plant productivity, and time in a process safety context, and (2) How does senior chemical engineering students’ prioritization of decision making criteria (budget, personal relationships, plant productivity, safety, and time) change after exposure to a virtual process safety decision making environment? As part of this study, 187 senior chemical engineering students from three separate institutions completed a pre- and post-reflection survey around their engagement with Contents Under Pressure and asked them to rank their prioritizations of budget, productivity, relationships, safety, and time. Data was analyzed using descriptive statistics, and Friedman and Wilcoxon-sign-rank post hoc analyses were completed to determine any statistical differences between the rankings of decision making factors before and after engagement with Contents Under Pressure. Simulating process safety decision making with interactive educational supports may increase students’ understanding of genuine workplace environments and factors that contribute to process safety, without the real world hazards that result from poor decision making. By understanding how students prioritize these factors, chemical engineering curricula can be adapted to focus on the areas of process safety decision making where students need the largest improvement, thereby better preparing them to enter the engineering workforce.« less
  3. Process safety incidents, ranging from the relatively minor to the catastrophic, are a major concern in the chemical engineering profession with impacts including lost time incidents, serious personal injury, fatalities, and negative public perception. These events can also have significant impacts on the environment and local infrastructure. However, many of these incidents could be avoided if better process safety management or risk mitigation was employed. For example, the fire and explosion that occurred at ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge was the result of operators manually opening a gearbox due to lack of familiarity with the equipment. This incident could have beenmore »avoided if better maintenance or training procedures had been in place, if the operators had recognized the old valve had a different design than the new ones, or if the old valves had been switched to a newer valve design. This accident indicates how process safety incidents can occur due to a series of decisions.« less
  4. This paper provides an overview of the general process and types of informal reasoning that undergraduate chemical engineering students use when approaching hypothetical process safety decisions.
  5. Despite process safety and ethical decision making being recognized priorities in many chemical companies, process safety incidents continue to occur with unfortunate regularity. In order to understand why such incidents keep occurring, and to prevent future accidents from happening, it is important to study the decision-making habits of people employed at chemical companies, and to inform students of the difference between the influences of ethics and behavioral ethics in process safety decision making. This study seeks to determine how senior chemical engineering students approach reasoning through process safety scenarios through the use of a mixed methods study. This study foundmore »that four out of the five students who participated in the study demonstrated post-conventional reasoning, and the remaining student showed conventional reasoning based on the quantitative analysis of their responses. Students showed mostly post-conventional reasoning in their responses based on a qualitative analysis; however, through comparison of these results it was found that the moral schema students were classified as was not always truly representative of their moral reasoning.« less
  6. Process safety has become a critical component of chemical engineering education. However, students may find it difficult to fully understand the ramifications of decisions they make during classroom exercises due to their lack of real world experience. Use of an immersive digital environment where students could role play as chemical engineering employees making process safety decisions could be one method of achieving this goal. Through this experience, students could observe the outcomes of their decisions in a safe, controlled environment without the disastrous real-world consequences that could come from making a mistake. This digital environment could have further features, suchmore »as time constraints or interactions with other characters, to make the experience feel more authentic than an in-class discussion or case study. In order to evaluate the efficacy of such a virtual environment, a portion of this work centered around the creation of the Engineering Process Safety Research Instrument (EPSRI). The instrument asks participants to evaluate process safety dilemmas and rank a set of considerations based on how influential they were in their decision-making process. The instrument then classifies each decision based on the stages of Kohlberg’s moral development theory, ranging from pre-conventional (i.e. more self-centered) thinking to post-conventional (i.e. more global) thinking. This instrument will be used to assess how students’ thinking about process safety decisions changes as a result of engaging in the virtual safety decision making environment. This paper will summarize the progress since the project’s start in summer 2017, highlighting the work completed in development and validation of the EPSRI. This process included content validation, think-aloud studies to improve clarity of the instrument, and factor analysis based on a large scale implementation at multiple universities. The paper will also discuss the development of the minimum viable product digital process safety experience, including establishment of learning outcomes and the mechanics that reinforce those outcomes. By presenting these findings, we intend to spread awareness of the EPSRI, which can evaluate the safety decisions of chemical engineering students while having the potential to launch discussions about safety and ethics in other engineering disciplines. We also hope that these results will provide educators with insights into how to translate educational objectives to elements of a digital learning environment through collaboration with digital media companies.« less