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Tributes to safety pioneer Professor Trevor Kletz

November 2013

UK IChemE president Judith Hackitt has paid tribute to safety pioneer Trevor Kletz who passed away on 31 October 2013 at the age of 91.

Kletz was one of industry’s most respected figures following a celebrated career as an industry safety advisor, lecturer and writer.

Hackitt, who is also Chair of the Great Britain Health and Safety Executive said: “Trevor’s impact on industry was striking. His ability to convey safety information succinctly, and effectively, was central to his success. On behalf of IChemE, I extend our sincere sympathies to his family and friends. We will ensure the memory and work of Trevor lives on within the chemical engineering community.”

IChemE chief executive David Brown says that the impact of Kletz’s work will be felt for many years: “Trevor unquestionably saved lives. There are people working in the process industries today who will go home safely to their families and loved ones, thanks to Trevor. He had a profound impact on industrial safety.”

Trevor Kletz worked for ICI from 1944 to 1982. In 1968 he was appointed as one of the process industry’s first technical safety advisors with a broad remit which included advising designers and operators about how to avoid accidents, specifically with regard to process accidents. On leaving ICI, Trevor built a second career as a process safety consultant, writer and lecturer. He was elected a Fellow of IChemE in 1978, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1984 and awarded an OBE for services to process safety in 1997. He authored fourteen books and more than one hundred peer-reviewed papers on process safety.

Kletz remained active professionally until earlier this year where a formal retirement reception was staged at IChemE’s Hazards 23 conference in Southport, UK.

A full obituary will be published in the December issue of tce. Share your memories of Trevor Kletz with tce editor Adam Duckett.

Statement from CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso on the Passing of Noted Chemical Process Safety Expert Professor Trevor Kletz

US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) board members and staff are saddened to learn of the death of the one of the world’s greatest authorities on chemical process safety, Dr. Trevor Kletz. Starting as a research chemist in the United Kingdom, Dr. Kletz’s career in industry established him as an expert in chemical process safety, safety culture, and as an advocate – indeed the father of – the concept of inherently safer technology and processes. One of his seminal papers was entitled, “What You Don’t Have Can’t Leak.” His teachings on accident investigations refocused the emphasis from individual lapses to systems failures and safer design. These concepts fostered a revolution in modern safety management thinking.

After retiring in 1982, Dr. Kletz established a second career as an author, speaker and academic. He served in recent years as adjunct professor of the Texas A&M University and Visiting Professor of Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University in the UK. We felt particularly attached to the work of Dr. Kletz as his commentary – excerpted from a CSB interview with him – is featured prominently in our 2008 CSB safety video, “Anatomy of a Disaster,” which tells the story of the BP Texas City refinery accident in 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured 180 others.

In the video, Dr. Kletz says, “There’s an old saying that if you think safety is expensive, try an accident. Accidents cost a lot of money. And, not only in damage to plant and in claims for injury, but also in the loss of the company’s reputation.” And in another segment, on the company’s reporting and learning culture: “Well, after an accident, managers often say, ‘I didn’t know this was happening or not happening,’ as the case may be, ‘if I’d known it, I’d have stopped it.’ Now this is bad management. It’s the manager’s job to know what is going on. And, he can do that by going round and by keeping his eyes open and reading the accident reports in detail.”

These are typical of the ways in which this wonderful man, so committed to preventing accidents and saving lives, communicated in such plain and effective language. Consider this typically pointed comment – also from our video – that gets to the heart of why accident prevention should be about looking for root causes, and not individual blame: “For a long time, people were saying that most accidents were due to human error and this is true in a sense but it’s not very helpful. It’s a bit like saying that falls are due to gravity.” The titles of just some of Dr. Kletz’s many authoritative books display his keen focus on making processes safer: “What Went Wrong?” “Lessons from Accidents,” “Process Plants – a Handbook for Inherently Safer Design,” and “By Accident – a Life Preventing Them in Industry.”

We mourn the loss of Trevor Kletz, whose lifetime of work has unquestionably resulted in workers’ lives saved and accidents prevented – a legacy we will try to emulate at the CSB.

View CSB video excerpts from Dr. Trevor Kletz, a world renowned expert in chemical process safety, who died October 31, 2013.


See also the tribute Happy 90th Birthday, Professor Trevor Kletz in the September 2012 FOCUS. This article also contains a long list of Trevor’s writings – the majority of which are found in OSH UPDATE + FIRE.