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THE IMPORTANCE OF LIFELONG LEARNING

Continual, lifelong learning is necessary for process safety personnel, but can easily be neglected. It contributes significantly to ensuring industrial processes stay safe and avoid catastrophic incidents that can harm employees, the public, the environment, and the company. Lifelong learning benefits the individual, the company, and the community at large. 

Individuals benefit professionally and personally from lifelong learning. Staying current with improved methods, best industry practices, and regulatory developments helps with current job responsibilities and also provides a path for career growth. Continual learning can also help build self-confidence, motivate better job performance, and improve employability and overall competency. Companies benefit from improved job performance and the increased value of employees to the company. The community benefits from the knowledge that the safety of facilities in their communities is in good hands.

Professionals in other fields routinely engage in lifelong learning, particularly when lives are at risk. For example, primary care physicians must attend seminars, conferences, and workshops to ensure they stay up-to-date on diagnostic procedures and treatments. We should expect no less of process safety practitioners who should be knowledgeable in relevant areas of process safety and stay abreast of the latest developments in order to ensure the best possible management of process safety.

Some companies assume that one-off training is sufficient to impart knowledge and skills. For example, if you are scheduled to lead a process hazard analysis (PHA) for the first time, you would likely need to start with attending a PHA training course. However, don’t assume that attending one training course and conducting a few studies will make you an expert facilitator. You need to stay current with technical and regulatory developments, for example, by attending periodic refresher training.

Continual training and learning should be accomplished with a mix of face-to-face, online training courses and self study. Blended learning methods should be adaptable and diverse but also appeal to desirable learning styles.

Face-to-face training traditionally has strong foundations built into the learning process because it combines different ways of learning, including workshops and engaging discussions and interaction with instructors and peers. Online courses can be very flexible and cost-effective by allowing for self-paced study and accessibility.

Self study is possible using many valuable resources that are available to help stay engaged and strengthen abilities between attendance at periodic training courses. Reading technical articles in journals and incident investigation reports, and attendance at webinars and conferences can help you keep up-to-date on the latest developments in your areas of responsibility.

Process safety practitioners should assess their continual training and learning needs by conducting a training needs analysis. Steps in doing so could include evaluating competencies, determining gaps and prioritizing new subject areas. Lifelong learning should address staying current with existing job responsibilities as well as advancing skills and knowledge for career growth. For example, to go beyond the fundamentals of facilitating hazard analyses, facilitators should learn how to conduct layers of protection analysis (LOPA), since it is an extension of PHA. PHA facilitators would also benefit from enhancing their leadership skills through awareness and understanding of human and psychological factors that influence the performance of PHA studies.

A plan, including a schedule, is needed to ensure training and learning occurs consistently each year. Consistency plays a significant part in motivating learning and in the retention and recall of information. A well-designed training plan should be developed for every learner.

For many reasons, it is important to build on existing knowledge and skills by regularly refreshing and advancing them to contribute effectively to reducing the risks of process safety incidents.

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