Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Longer than most engineering educations!

How long does it take to learn from a  major process safety event? The answer is longer than most engineering educations!
Yesterday the CSB stated in a news item published after the frist day of hearings in Houston, that at the time of the Gulf blowout companies such as BP, Transocean, Industry Associations and Government Offshore Regulators had not learned critical lessons from the BP Texas City Refinery explosion five years earlier. That support the viewpoint stated earlier here and on other platforms, that a key problem with process safety is that industry does not learn well enough from from past industry disasters - not least from the accidents of others.
At todays hearing we heard, that the US offshore industry is behind the European offshore industry in collecting and sharing key performance indicators, and learing from these shared indicators. This is taking place on a voluntary basis. However, even in Norway regulators monitor the change in risk level from year to year. However, decisions that lead to disasters are taking from day to day or even hour to hour. Annual changes in risk level indicators is of litte use here - in my view.
What would be a good indicator for learning from the bad fortune of others? Would stories help? Stories about the fathers or mothers or sons or daugthers - people like you and me - killed or injured by process safety events.



Saturday, July 21, 2012

What can data do?

On July 19th in the Houston Chronicle the chairperson of the CSB Rafeal Moure-Eraso wrote under the heading "Better safety data could help prevent oil industry disasters" about the explosion and fire at BP's Texas City Refinery in March 2005, and the explosion and fire on Deepwater Horizon while it was working for BP in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Mr. Moure-Eraso argues, that these disasters show the need for developing a system of meaningful safety indicators to alert about safety problems before a disaster strikes. I think this is a very fine goal, and such safety indicators can - if correctly designed and used - very likely help site management and others in the company make the right process safety decisions.
However, Mr. Moure-Eraso also want these safety indicators - designed for use in a specific plant - to be reported to the public and regulators. But what powers and knowledge do regulators and the public have to get involved in the management of a particular process plant? In my view: not much! So what purpose does publishing the indicators outside the plant satisfy? I am pretty sure, that if the purpose is to compare different plants in the same area then the indicators will loose their value to site management.
It has to be remembered, that the management of BP's Texas City Refinery carried out all the HAZOP's and other studies, which compliance with regulators required. What they failed to do was act on the recommendations contained in the reports from the studies. For example site management failed to replace the atmospheric blowout drum with a tie-in to the site flare system when the opportunity was there at a cost of less than 100 meters piping before the event in March 2005. If site management don't have the knowledge to act at such times, then I don't think any safety indicators will help no matter how good they are.
What in my opinion really is needed is work on the safety culture at each and every process plant from the plant floor workers over site management to corporate management. Only when the safety culture is developed, then will the number of process safety events experienced decline. This is an issue, which the CSB never or rarely seem to address in their investigations and studies. It is time for a change!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Process Safety is more than tracking a number

About a week ago the CSB announced, that it will hold hearings in Houston later this month to release the preliminary finding in connection with the Macondo Blowout and Explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. At the hearings experts will discuss the importance of effective process safety indicators. The first day will focus on refining and petrochemical indicators defined by ANSI/API RP 754 Process Safety Performance Indicators for the Refining and Petrochemical Industries. RP 754 is a result of CSB's investigation into the BP Texas City Explosion and Fire in 2005. On the second day of the hearings the focus will be on safety indicators related to the well blowout and explosion.
Unfortunately both the 2005 explosion at Texas City and the 2010 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico involved the same company: BP. As pointed out previously in this blog ExxonMobil faced a very similar situation at a location not far from the Macondo a few years earlier. ExxonMobil was fortunate enough to have the management systems and decision making systems in place to make the decision to abondon the well. There was a significant economic loss. But far from the loss BP is experiencing after the blowout or the loss Exxon experience with the Exxon Valdez. During times when decisions involving hundreds of millions of dollars are to be made, there is no time for calculation of safety performance indicators, review of safety performance indicators, and boards meetings to make the right decision for the company. The culture most be in place to involve people at all levels of the company in making the decision.
Everyone has the technology for the necessary communication among the decision makers. The question to ask is whether the necessary culture to involve the decision makers are also there? At ExxonMobil it was in place some years earlier. BP's CEO was informed after the blowout.
I believe, that the CSB focus on the wrong issues. Process Safety Performance Indicators whether they are labelled lagging or leading are all based on what happened in the past. No indicators will create a safety culture. BP performed all the necessary HAZOPs at Texas City, but the company did not act on the recommendations in the HAZOPs. I wish, that the CSB in the future would focus on two things:
  1. Safety Culture - how to create it, how to sustain it, and how to measure it.
  2. Training at all levels of the organisation from owner to operator.
A common feature of many CSB investigations over the past decade have been, that either there was a lag of  training or a lag of culture. The indicators were there if anyone cared to calculate them and use them. Let us get real process safety improvements by focusing on "the art of working properly", as they said in PetroCanada.