HSE Knowledge

Are you really backing process safety? Tips & tricks from the real world

Incidents still take place in our industry. So there is every reason to put process safety on the agenda and keep it there. It is obvious that the integrity of installations has to be secured, and also that that sometimes requires costly modifications. But there are plenty of other ways to improve process safety. Measures that take effort, but do not rely so much upon major financial investments. At the iBanx Industry Event 2011 we joined up with participants to look at this issue. How is process safety defined? What did past incidents teach us? And, above all, where are the bright spots – the positive examples worth following?

To start with the definition, take the report by the Baker Panel, which investigated the 2005 explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City jointly with the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB). This describes process safety as managing “hazards [that] can give rise to major accidents involving the release of potentially dangerous materials, the release of energy (such as fires and explosions), or both.” At Texas City, BP clearly fell short on this count.

Lessons from Texas City
The Baker Panel and the CSB looked into the background of the Texas disaster and analyzed what went wrong. Reviewing their findings, a number of clear lessons for the industry jump out. All are relevant today when we look at process safety at the plants we work with. First, there was huge economic pressure in a commercial climate not unlike the crisis we are currently going through. Another problem was that BP emphasized personal rather than process safety. Whilst personal safety was highlighted at every opportunity, there was a lack of attention to the huge risks inherent in the process. Also absent was a “learning culture”. The plant’s outdated design played a part, too, and with hindsight it was found that technical improvements had been possible but had not been carried out. Finally, BP had underestimated the importance of human interaction in assessing the state of the plant and its process.

At iBanx, we know from our day-to-day contact with customers that process safety is often quite clear-cut at the technical level, but that not enough is being done to promote it. Because investments are coming under pressure and costs have to be reduced, for example, or because incidents and LTIs are rare. The last one is a good thing, of course, but it tells more about personal safety than the risks being run. Even compliance with the statutory requirements for process safety does not mean that the risks have been eliminated. It is important, therefore, that we ask ourselves a number of questions. Are we aware of the risks at the plant? If we identify risks, how do we respond? And, just as important, what guides the way we look at this issue? Is that the company, the legislation or our experiences on the plant? For lawmakers, the principle focus at the moment is the management of change. That has made it a hot item within the industry, and for us at iBanx it has generated a lot of questions from the industry. From surveys we know, that everyone has an MoC procedure, but what about the smaller changes? Does everyone know how that process should unfold, what risks it entails and how these can be prevented?

Bright spots
Instead of focusing upon existing problems, however, at the iBanx Industry Event 2011 we homed in on what is already being done well and how other players can benefit from these “bright spots”. Especially in the areas of incident management and shift handovers, there are some interesting best practices we would like to share with you.

Tips for outstanding incident management:

  • Value incident reports and encourage people to provide their own analyses.
  • Respond when incidents are reported: investigate and analyze them.
  • Avoid falling into a “punishment culture”: learn from incidents.
  • Make sure that problems are actually solved. Tackle them, not just their symptoms, and do not allow financial constraints to prevent that.
  • Bring safety into the line: assign responsibility for incidents to the appropriate department, and provide HSE and other specialist support.
  • To stress how important they are, address incidents at management level.
  • Analyze incidents at the lowest possible level. Scale up only when really necessary.
  • Draw a distinction between actually dealing with reports and the production of trend analyses and other items derived from them.

Finally, here are two tips for shift handovers.

  • Create a quiet place for the handover procedure.
  • At the end of their shift, let shift managers themselves assess the handover at the beginning of the shift.

Some of these tips may look like “open doors”, but do walk through them and ask yourself whether you really have all these logical steps in place at your plant. And if the answer is no, then feel free to take them up! If you have your own bright spots you would like to share with your industry colleagues, please e-mail them to us and we will add them to the article.

Improve your incident management process

Improve your shift handover process