Improving safety in the downstream sector

Training, communication, and ongoing audits and reviews are essential to ensure all aspects of process safety are kept up-to-date in the downstream industry units, comments Colin Chapman

Colin Chapman is president at Euro Petroleum Consultants (EPC), which is a technical oil and gas consultancy with offices in Dubai, London, Moscow, Sofia and Kuala Lumpur.
Colin Chapman is president at Euro Petroleum Consultants (EPC), which is a technical oil and gas consultancy with offices in Dubai, London, Moscow, Sofia and Kuala Lumpur.

It is vital that companies develop a strong safety culture in order to benefit from reliable and stable operations, avoid damage to their facilities and avoid environmental catastrophes and provide a safe working place for their employees as well as improving margins.

Historically, accidents mainly occur due to the following reasons: mistakes in design, or poor control during manufacturing and construction; unnecessary cost cutting on maintenance, or asset management measures and materials; ineffective oversight of safety culture; low-level training for normal operations and abnormal situations, and lack of understanding about importance and key elements of process safety by both operators and managers, thus increased risk of the human factor impact; deficiencies in integrity programme and fatigue prevention policy; procedural errors, for example, lack of reporting, irregular updates of procedures, lack of compliance with regulations, including requirements for paperwork; weak safety barrier management; inadequate hazard and risk assessment caused by poor understanding of management of change (MoC) principles; and insufficient oversight by regulatory agencies and/or independent inspectors, i.e., lack of HAZOPs, lack of feedback and follow-up on previous reviews.

Adopting a rigorous process safety management (PSM) system will help to ensure safe, smooth and reliable operations.

Systemic causes of incidents are specific for each stage of a project, and includes: leadership – lack of corporate support and management focus on safety; design, procurement and construction – failure to design plants to the very highest standards, and also inadequate inspection and control during manufacture and construction; maintenance and reliability – inadequate maintenance and inspection of operating units; MoC – failure to recognise and control hazards in any change; and operation – lack of operational discipline, complacency and lack of ongoing training. (In the Middle East region, it is usual to have operating staff from many countries, and staff turnover is quite high. Therefore, there is a need to ensure continuous training.)

Safety leaders need to address important issues and develop the company’s own customised vision on: company policy on major accident risk; identification and assessment methods for major accidents and risks; criteria on risk tolerability and approach to residual risk; balance between safety, environmental and financial performance; governance systems to be in place (definition of roles and responsibilities for process safety); corporate standards and practices; required capability of resources and competences to effectively manage the risks; crisis management and emergency response organisation; and measuring and monitoring the performance on major accident risks.

MoC is crucial; managers need to be sure that written procedures exist to cover changes to process chemicals, technology, equipment, procedures, and facilities that affect the process (for example, organisational changes). This applies specifically when upgrading existing units to more modern technology, etc.

MoC procedures must make sure following issues are addressed before change is made: technical basis for the change; impact of the change on employee health and safety; required modifications to operating procedures; time required for change; authorisation requirements; and communication and training requirements.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) also are needed to understand how well organisations are performing in relation to their goals and objectives. KPIs are essential for a number of reasons such as: improvement is only possible when you can measure current condition and compare to a benchmark that is to be achieved; KPI is a basic element of systematic management of operational risks; major accidents derive through multiple failures that should be contained by several protective barriers; and KPIs can consist of effective leading and lagging indicators.

To develop and maintain a comprehensive KPI system, a comprehensive and simple procedure should be followed on a regular basis: review current process safety KPIs – engage all parties; establish current performance mechanisms; review present indicators; develop set of KPIs; compare with benchmarks (best practices); analyse relevance, measurability and compliance with strategy; clarify the scope and boundaries; select the right audience, ensure understanding; prioritise, choose and decide; set priorities, discuss, and adjust; develop KPI proposal, confirm and report; and provide clear and accurate communication.

Even though there is no universal solution for 100% safety level and zero incidents, all successful companies that lead the way in terms of reliability and credibility use the following five-step guide to prevent major incidents and accidents: (i) audit existing practices; (ii) train staff in process safety management, and communicate regularly; (iii) develop systems and processes to fill gaps; (iv) develop KPIs for PSM; and (v) review and audit on a regular basis.

Process safety excellence should be a target for all organisations and leadership commitment is essential. A PSM system should be established, incorporating all aspects of PSM.

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