Getting on the Same Page in Process SafetyOn day one of the StocExpo Europe 2017 Conference, Ian Travers, Principal Consultant (Process Safety), will look at how to see through the complexity and technical jargon that surrounds process safety in many organisations to just focus on the most important issues in the prevention of a catastrophic incident. Here he provides a taster of his talk:
In catastrophic risk management the hazardous properties of materials, substances and energy never take any time off to allow us to figure out how to contain and manage the associated risks. We fully know how to effectively manage such risks through a system known as process safety management. So why do major catastrophic accidents keep occurring? Such events don’t usually occur because of a blatant disregard for safety precautions; especially as many who bear the full impact are the front-line workers who are so frequently blamed as the cause for not following the rules or procedures.
Understand and Describe Risk in Plain Language
The answer lies in the education and understanding of major hazard risks and in presenting the concepts of process safety management in plain and simple terms for all those involved. Delivering safety and environmental protection involves people at all levels within an organisation and is not just the responsibility of a small dedicated professional team. We all have to ‘Get on the Same Page’ and get involved in the same way, because the hazards are always present, no matter how inconvenient for us. Confusion, misunderstanding and misaligned priorities can all lead to catastrophic consequences.
The term process safety does not conjure up a shared understanding. It has tended to be the preserve of safety professionals and engineers who frequently describe this aspect of risk management in complex language; using phrases such as safety barriers, bow ties, as low as reasonably practicable, ALARP, SFIRP, Safety Integrity Level, SIL, HAZOP, HAZID and more.
No wonder that ordinary workers and senior executives lose interest within the first few minutes into a discussion. A simpler, plain language approach is needed.
The way to manage catastrophic risks can be broken down into simpler solutions, agreed and communicated throughout an organisation:
How could it go catastrophically wrong? – Hazard Identification.
Where/when will the process most likely go wrong and what will the consequences be?
What controls or systems are there to prevent a major accident or to limit escalation? –
Which of these are most vulnerable to failure?
What information is available to show these control systems continue to operate to the desired performance standard?
Driven from the Top
Implementing and maintaining a process safety management system does not occur spontaneously. It has to be driven and led by senior executives from Board level down through the organisation. Strong process safety leadership is required.
Controls need to fit the Risk like a Glove
Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the control and mitigation measures required to prevent the catastrophic failure of plant and its equipment. Controls have to be closely tailored to the risks, the way the plant or equipment could fail, and the profile of the organisation. If key measures are missed a major hazard challenge might not be effectively controlled. Overdoing it will lead to ‘gold plating’, incurring unnecessary expense in design and operation.
A great deal of thought and effort is required to design and implement the right system, tailored to the risk profile of the organisation.
But then it all Goes Wrong from Day One
Most effort and resource is applied during the design and implementation stage, and subsequently the system is expected to run without failure – like a modern high-tech automobile.
Unfortunately, systems of control start to deteriorate immediately they are implemented. This is mainly due to modification and change, but also human ingenuity to work outside documented procedures and systems to get the job done, save time and improve performance. This endeavour is to be welcomed provided that control of major hazards is not degraded.
Regrettably, many well-meaning employees have not been involved in the system design or had the relevance of the procedure properly explained to them. Most people have no concept of the hazard, let alone of process safety risk.
Get on the Same Page
Use plain language – after all people ‘do’ safety not systems. My proposal for everyone involved in major hazard risks is to ‘get on the same page’. This ensures that everyone working at such risk fully understands the hazards they are exposed to, and accepts the associated control measures and procedures. A degree of differentiation and visibility is also required against a backdrop of ‘proceduralisation’ of business activities.
Cover Asset management at the Same Time and Stay in Business
The good news is that effective asset management and good process safety management are one and the same thing. Both aimed at effective containment of hazardous substances or energy, and both rely on accurate information on the status of the plant, process conditions and of control systems.
Knowledge and understanding of how such systems degrade and fail is essential. Get this combination of asset management and process safety right and not only will the plant be safe but it can be run efficiency, with costly activities, such as maintenance, being precisely targeted to avoid unnecessary expense. Achieving this goal of safe operation, reliable plant and reduced operational costs is now well understood, and has been increasingly the practice of high reliability organisations. They can operate with a ‘no surprises’ asset performance through effective KPIs and positive confirmation that critical safety systems, including human performance, are intact and delivering the desired safety outcomes.
High Reliability and No Surprises
High reliability major hazard business can be readily achieved through simplifying and demystifying process safety management; engaging everyone within a high hazard organisation by using common plain language descriptions of risks and control measures so that the importance of critical procedures and control measures are distinguished from other activities, understood and accepted. Make risks and performance of critical control measures visible and describe them using simple language. Undertake this alongside an integrated asset management programme and a highly effective, reliable and profitable business will be achieved.
Ian Travers is one of 30 world-leading experts speaking at StocExpo Europe 2017. The show also features a packed exhibition hall, with over 200 suppliers from across the globe. For more information on visiting the exhibition, booking as a delegate for the conference or becoming a media partner, please call +44 (0)20 8843 8800 or visit the event website.