To a new level in (process) safety?
On the basis of a 2009 investigation, the Dutch Association for the Chemical Industry has concluded that levels of personal safety in the chemical industry have improved considerably down the years, with fewer and fewer Loss Time Incidents occurring at most factories. Indeed, the LTIs that do take place often concern less serious incidents involving people stumbling, slipping or missing their footing. Can we conclude from this that everything is fine as regards safety, and that we can rest on our laurels?
In our industry, we realize of course that things are not quite that simple, and that accidents can still happen – not just in the area of personal safety, but also, and more especially, of process safety. That is where the more serious incidents are likely to occur, as shown recently with BP in Texas City and the nuclear power plants in Fukushima. The question, then, is what the next step is in order to prevent serious accidents of this kind.
Linking the logbook and incident management
In order to support the proactive method described in this article, we have linked the logbook system (ShiftCliq) and the incident management system (IncidentCliq) in our Unite HSE software suite. This enables operators to make an initial basic report in the logbook of HSE and process-related near-accidents, actual accidents, observations and undesirable situations. This initial report is then duplicated in IncidentCliq, where additional information is added, and where it is analyzed and followed up. The person reporting the incident is given feedback and everyone can monitor the ongoing status of the report and how it is being dealt with.
It is also possible to plan periodic rounds in order to assess people’s conduct and the technical condition of the machinery. This means that every undesirable HSE-related matter can be recorded, followed up and communicated to everyone, so that everyone can constantly learn the lessons from near-accidents.
Ultimately, our aim is for every problem and opportunity for improvement to always be followed up: we can do so by modifying the working practices of operators and maintenance engineers, and by linking the Unite logbook system, maintenance management systems, the MoC-module in Unite, our Temporary Instructions system and the central action list. This ‘closing the loop’ approach represents a continuous and smooth-running process of improvement.
One way is to register near-accidents and unsafe situations or acts. This is standard procedure at many factories, but in practice it is difficult to make sure that:
- everyone actually reports near-accidents and unsafe situations/acts,
- the reports are regularly analyzed and converted into realistic tasks,
- these tasks are actually carried out.
This only works if everyone constantly keeps their eyes open for anything that is not as it should be, and reports it: in practice, this means making extensive arrangements for ensuring that everyone actively looks out for risks, and that the process of reporting and following up near-accidents and unsafe situations or acts should be made easier and more ‘user-friendly’.
One way of making it easier is to use the information in the logbook more effectively. Operators are already accustomed to using the logbook for recording all kinds of observations: if the observations in the logbook were made suitable for the purpose of registering near-accidents and unsafe situations and acts, then the operators would be able to do so more easily, and would therefore be more inclined to do so. It would be useful to ensure that the operators enter the relevant information into the logbook in such a way that it would be suitable for the ‘system’ of registering and following up incidents. ‘Integrating’ the logbook and the incident management system would also make it easier to find the details of the prevailing circumstances of a near-accident or undesirable situation in the logbook. If such integration were to help the person (and others) reporting the near-accident to automatically receive feedback and to gain a better idea of the status of near-accidents and unsafe situations, then there would be a greater incentive to record near-accidents and undesirable situations and acts.
The method would not only contribute towards making work safer, but could also be applied to the safety of processes. Here, too, it is important to register, detail and follow up near-accidents and unsafe situations and acts.
Operators can, during their shifts, record production-related near misses (for example, ‘wrong valve opened’) or schedule periodic observation rounds in order to identify unsafe process situations.
Here, too, it is possible to make recording and follow-up actions easier by ‘automatically’ translating the information from the logbook into a production near miss or undesirable situation or act.
Linking the logbook and incident management is a way of lifting both work and, in particular, process-related safety to a higher level, without too much effort.