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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Why are process safety incidents still happening and what can we do to stop them?

14/9/2022

4 min read

Head and shoulders picture of Dr Stephen Bater FEI, Director of Process Safety Auditing Limited Photo: Stephen Bater
Dr Stephen Bater FEI, Director of Process Safety Auditing Limited

Photo: Stephen Bater

Identifying, evaluating the risks of, and ultimately preventing accidents and incidents should be of the utmost importance to anyone working with hazardous chemicals, but this is not always the case. Dr Stephen Bater FEI, Director of Process Safety Auditing Limited, recommends implementing the EI Process Safety Management Framework to maintain safe operations.

Once upon a time, an eternal optimist absent-mindedly stepped off the top of the tallest office block in the land. As he hurtled past each floor, the occupants were startled by his enthusiastic cry, ‘…so far, so good…so far, so good…so far, so good…’.

 

It’s an absurd tale, but do senior leaders sometimes manage to convince themselves that their major hazards are under control, despite signs to the contrary? On occasions, the impacts of a major accident such as a fire, explosion or release of toxic substances are blessedly minor. On other occasions, the organisation is less fortunate and workers and/or members of the public are harmed, assets and the wider environment are damaged, and reputations are inevitably trashed.

 

So, what can be done to avoid the ‘so far, so good…’ approach to impending disaster and instead engage in a far more reliable approach to process safety?

 

The EI Process Safety Management Framework
Since 2019 I have been engaged with the Energy Institute (EI) and its Process Safety Committee as the author of the revision of the acclaimed EI Process Safety Management (PSM) Framework, which was published in 2022 and replaces the 2010 first edition. In recent years I have been further involved in the development of several web-based tools to help organisations to implement the Framework. 


I believe that by implementing the holistic approach of the EI PSM Framework, the hitherto ‘dark arts’ of process safety management can be effectively managed in a scientific and systematic way. The Framework enables a multidimensional and multidisciplined approach that facilitates a blend of technology and management solutions to be implemented, and safe operations delivered. 


Process safety also requires an effective evaluation of the entire process, and the EI PSM Framework achieves this with a thorough examination of work operations to identify and control risk and potential hazards related to the process. This does not happen overnight and will require the right resources and senior leader attention to bring about change. 


There are those leaders who hope that their major hazards are under proper control, but on the ground there are few systems in place to provide feedback on problems, losses of control and process safety performance. There are also senior leaders who think that they understand critical process safety issues and may possess an instinctive feel for the status of process safety, but this is subjective and cannot be demonstrated. 


For those companies with a mature approach to process safety, the aim is to not hope or think, but to know that major hazards are under proper control. This is, ultimately, the aim of implementing the EI PSM Framework.


Replacing ‘so far, so good’ negligence
Having unfortunately experienced first-hand poor behaviour on some high hazard sites where cost reduction was the overriding preoccupation, I believe that the holistic approach offered by the EI PSM Framework is essential as it will help identify and address these attitudes and behaviours.

 

I am so confident that this is the best approach that I recently teamed up with Ian Travers, former HSE Deputy Director for Chemicals Regulation, to develop a live intuitive audit and compliance application for the effective assurance of process safety management. The Energy Institute Process Safety Management audit application presents live process data management and visualisation, provides distributed and user-friendly data entry facilities, and live, intuitive visualisations on both detailed and aggregated levels. The application was developed to ensure that it is fully aligned to the EI PSM Framework.

 

Regulatory, industrial and social drivers require that process safety is effectively managed for all businesses engaging in high-risk operations, such as the oil, gas, chemical and nuclear industries and, increasingly in the drive to net zero, the use of emerging fuels and technologies. Organisations in these fields are required to take all necessary measures to prevent accidents and protect the environment to effectively manage their operations safely. This app-based assurance tool will help organisations demonstrate this both internally and for external stakeholders.

 

The application gives users from senior managers through to front line staff a tool for easy identification and recording of findings and recommended actions. It empowers site managers and executives with an immediate, easy-to-understand picture of the current situation across the organisation’s assets.

 

In contrast to our eternal optimist plunging towards the pavement, the path to impending disaster need not be inevitable.

 

The EI also offers an online Process Safety Management training course, as well as a Hazardous Area Classification training course, based on the EI Model code of safe practice Part 15.

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