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  1. Process safety is becoming a greater focus of chemical plant design and operation due to the number of incidents involving dangerous chemical accidents. Since its creation nearly 20 years ago, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has investigated 130 safety incidents and provided over 800 safety recommendations to operating chemical facilities. Following a gas well blowout in 2018, the CSB gave a recommendation to the American Petroleum Institute (API) to establish recommended practice on alarm management. Similarly, in 2017, the CSB gave a recommendation to Arkema Inc. to update their emergency response training following a hurricane that caused a fire at one of their manufacturing sites. Many times, CSB-led investigations resulted in new regulations and standards that are enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These critical recommendations positively impact not only the plant workers but also the surrounding community and the environment. While these safety measures enhance industrial safety culture, it is important that process safety also be integrated into university-level engineering curricula to promote safety culture while future engineers are still developing. Integrating process safety into the curriculum prepares students by familiarizing them with the difficult decisions they will be requiredmore »to make in professional practice. ABET, the engineering program accreditation body, acknowledges the value of early, appropriate training within their program guidelines “Criteria for Chemical Engineering Curriculum” which states that recognition and assessment of the hazards associated with chemical processes must be included in the curriculum for program accreditation. Based on this requirement, many institutions have taken the approach to integrate process safety into their curriculum using video case studies, adding entire courses to cover hazard identification, and including safety lectures in design courses. A common theme missing from these methods is instruction on how to approach, recognize, and navigate decisions within a process safety context; a lack of this situational awareness was noted as a key element in industrial process safety incidents. Understanding how students approach process safety decisions is important for developing teaching methods and curriculum that will better prepare them for professional practice. As part of this study, we will measure how students rank criteria associated with process safety decisions, and how these prioritizations change after exposure to a process safety decision making intervention. Through this work, we hope to determine how process safety curriculum may be improved to help better prepare students for process safety decisions within industry.« less
  2. Two methods of assessing senior chemical engineering student ethical decision making in a process safety context were developed; the case-study-based Engineering Process Safety Reasoning Instrument (EPSRI) and a digital immersive environment entitled Contents Under Pressure. Both interventions had similar ethical and process safety decision prompts, but were presented in different manners; the EPSRI as a traditional electronic survey, and Contents Under Pressure as a digital immersive environment (“game”). 148 chemical engineering seniors at three institutions responded to both interventions and responses were compared. Student responses to the traditionally formatted EPSRI revealed most students applied post-conventional reasoning, which is uncommon for students in their age range. This suggests that students are aware of the ethical framing of the instrument, and answer accordingly with the perceived “right” response. Student responses to Contents Under Pressure showed significant differences from the EPSRI, including more typical conventional responses. These results suggest that the authenticity of the digital environment can produce more realistic student responses to ethical and process safety dilemmas. Situating ethical and process safety instruction within this type of educational intervention may allow students to gain insight on their ethical decision making process in a safer, low-risk environment.
  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 been 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.
  4. Engineering solutions typically involve weighing multiple competing and often conflicting variables in an attempt to come to an optimal solution. Since many engineered systems are used by or impact employees, customers, and the public, the safety and well being of those people must factor heavily into engineers’ decision making processes. Indeed, in the professional codes of numerous engineering societies, the safety, health and welfare of the public is at or near the top of the list in important and fundamental tenets of the profession. Given the importance of process safety in engineering, the American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), and the engineering accrediting agency (ABET) have provided guidelines specifically for chemical engineering programs that require them to include explicit instruction in process safety and hazard identification. Since 2011, the accreditation criteria for chemical engineering programs has included language that addresses the study of process safety and hazards as a core element of a chemical engineer’s education.
  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 found 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.
  6. Process safety is at the heart of operation of many chemical processing companies. However, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has still documented over 800 investigations of process safety failures since the year 2000. While not all of these incidents were severe, some did lead to employee injuries or death and environmental harm. As a result, chemical engineering companies are increasingly dedicated to process safety through training programs and detailed vigilance as part of their operations practice. AIChE and OSHA also offer courses in process safety to help support the industry. These efforts illustrate the paramount importance that chemical engineering graduates have an appreciation and understanding of process safety as they transition from their degree program into industrial positions. Previous studies have shown that despite difficulties due to course load constraints, process safety has been incorporated into chemical engineering curriculum through either the addition of new courses, incorporation of the content within existing classes, or a combination of the two methods. A review performed in Process Safety Progress suggested that a key step for departments moving forward is to perform an assessment of the process safety culture within their institution in order to determine how faculty and students view process safety.more »An issue with completing this task is the lack of assessment tools that can be used to determine how students are developing their understanding of process safety decision making. This observation led to the development of the Engineering Process Safety Research Instrument (EPSRI). This instrument is modeled after the Defining Issues Test version 2 (DIT2) and the Engineering Ethical Reasoning Instrument (EERI). Similar to these instruments, the EPSRI provides dilemmas, three decisions, and 12 additional considerations that individuals must rate based on their relative importance to their decision making process. The dilemmas developed in the EPSRI are based on case studies and investigations from process safety failures that have occurred in industry to provide a realistic context for the decision making decisions that engineers may be faced with upon employment. The considerations provided after the scenario are derived to reflect pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional decision making thinking as described by Kohlberg’s Moral Development Theory. Pre-conventional decision making thinking focuses particularly on what is right/wrong or good/bad from an individual level, whereas post-conventional thinking seeks to determine what is correct from moral and value perspectives at the society level. This WIP paper describes the content validity study conducted while developing the EPSRI. Dilemmas were examined by context experts including professionals in the process industry, chemical engineering departments, and learning sciences field. Content experts reviewed the dilemmas and determined whether they represented accurate examples of process safety decision making that individuals may face in real-world engineering settings. The experts also reviewed the 12 considerations for each dilemma for their accuracy in capturing pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional thinking. This work represents the first step in the overall instrument validation that will take place over the next academic year.« less