Safety Moment #13: Education and Training

Education for process safety management

The material shown here has been extracted from the ebook 52 Process Safety Moments and from the book Process Risk and Reliability Management .



  • Overview
  • Training
  • Troubleshooting / Education
  • Expert Assistance
  • Further Information


Most process safety-related incidents involve some type of human involvement and error. Not only is human error usually a contributing factor, operating technicians are often part of the last line of defense. In the words of Trevor Kletz, “The operator is the last man on the bus.” If they do not respond correctly then they are easily blamed, even though they were just the last item in a string of failures that could go all the way back to the original design.

Therefore, not surprisingly, many hazards analyses and incident investigations generate recommendations on the following lines:

Improve operating procedures and training.

Now, as a general rule, there is nothing wrong with such a recommendation. There are few facilities with such good procedures and training that no realistic improvement to either can be made. Nevertheless, such a recommendation may be missing a more fundamental point, which is that human error may result not so much from lack of training as lack of education.


In order to understand the distinction between training and education, consider the operation of a pump. An operator is trained in how to start the pump during normal operations. The training consists of a list of actions to take (check the suction pressure, close the discharge valve, press the green “start” button, and so on). If he or she follows these instructions then the pump will start safely and efficiently.

Troubleshooting / Education

However, the operator may be faced with an unusual situation such as:

  • The pump won’t start.
  • It’s making a funny noise.
  • The discharge pressure is lower than it should be.
  • The motor is pulling more amps than normal.

In such situations the technician’s training is of no help. What he needs is education in the principles of pump operation. He or she can then attempt to figure out the cause of the problem and what corrective actions need to be taken. In other words, someone who is educated in a topic understands its fundamental principles, whereas someone who is merely trained in that topic knows only “what to do.”

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