Chemical Engineers Have a Role in Process Safety

chemical engineers should enter the workforce
Chemical engineers should enter the workforce with a full understanding of potential dangers. ISTOCK.COM/DSCIAGE

In recent years there have been many advances in process safety. Still, we continue to hear of accidents in labs and factories, with the damage and injury they cause. As a chemical engineer, one of your key roles is to properly manage process safety — and it begins before you are even on the job.


In a lab or factory, there are multiple potential dangers. What they are will depend on your particular business, but they could range from chemicals to electrical hazards and more. In a paper mill there are potential dangers from fire risks, chemical substances, machinery, and so on. These dangers are not only to the plant and those in it, but the environment itself. For example, if a fire were to break out and spread beyond the building, that represents a hazard to the environment; as you work with chemicals, you must aim to ensure they aren’t released into the atmosphere.

Process safety is the practice of managing risk when it comes to preventing these hazards. A chemical engineer is responsible for taking care of the chemicals a facility uses, as well as ensuring that they are used only as directed.

Process safety is managed via a variety of systems. This is described in psychology professor James T. Reason’s “Swiss Cheese” model. “Think of your processes as slices of Swiss cheese, as barriers with a number of holes in each,” explains tech writer Amy Lawson. “These barriers are imperfect, but the stronger your processes, the smaller the holes are, and the less likely you are to have accidents.”

As such, you need to have a working knowledge of the processes in your plant, so if something does go wrong, you’re ready to put your “slice” of the safety measures in place right away.


As a chemical engineer, when should you take charge of process safety? Your responsibility starts as you begin to study to become an engineer. In 2011, changes to chemical engineering curricula were made to help minimize accidents, following recommendations from the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. The recommendations were prompted by a 2007 explosion at the T2 Laboratories in Jacksonville, FL, which was caused when a reaction got out of control, killing four people and injuring 32 more. After this accident, recommendations were made to improve process safety and ensure these accidents are less frequent.

The curricula changes ensure that all chemical engineering students study not only the application of chemistry to engineering, but also the hazards that are involved. With this information, students can go into the workforce with a full understanding of the potential dangers.

This is such an important process that many companies are getting involved. “Companies like Dow are working with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, donating resources to help with this education,” says content writer Daniel Roberts from Brit Student. “Because of this, they’re ensuring that the newest generation of engineers are fully prepared for process safety.”

As a chemical engineer, your role is to be properly educated about the potential hazards you face. Remembering the Swiss Cheese model: you cannot protect against all dangers all the time. However, you can make those holes smaller and the spaces between them wider — so with all the layers in place, you’ll be able to avoid most dangers and make accidents a rare occurrence.

In addition, it is your responsibility to stay educated about process safety, as processes will change along with technology. Your employer should ensure you stay up to date, for example by sending you to training courses regularly. That allows you to continue your education long after you’ve completed your engineering degree.

Process safety is not just about protecting your mill or plant, but the wider environment, too. A failure in process safety can be deadly; but if you stay educated about the latest processes and their potential hazards, you can do your part to ensure accidents won’t happen.

George J. Newton is a business development manager at Academic Brits research paper writing services ( and PhD Kingdom. He focuses on workplace safety and development.