Friday, November 22, 2013

How would you use the safety maturity index?

Earlier this week news about a safety maturity index (SMI) appeared on ControlGlobal. The SMI is calculated by a self-assessment tool (currently in beta) provided by Rockwell Automation. The SMI divide companies into 4 maturity levels:

  1. Companies, for whom the driver for safety is minimizing investments.
  2. Companies, for whom the driver for safety is attaining compliance.
  3. Companies, for whom the driver for safety is cost avoidance. 
  4. Companies, for whom the driver for safety is operational excellence.
My first reaction was: Does things actually improve when going from level 1 to 2 to 3 to 4?, and then what is the difference between minimizing investments and cost avoidance?, and finally what does operational excellence in safety mean?

Then I started speculating who would calculate this index? and why? And how would they use it? Which industries would use it? Discrete manufacturing? Oil and gas? Refining and chemical? Fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals?

Generally I am quite skeptical about indices. And I wonder what this new index brings to the table, which could not be achieved with existing sustainability indices? On the safety goal setting which the Dow Chemical Company did in 1985 and 1995 before the safety goals were changed to sustainability goals in 2005 (I hope they continue with those in 2015). 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is automation the solution to all problems?

I don't think so! Although from B. Lipták's recent blog "Automation can prevent the next BP spill" one is likely to get that impression. The blog correctly identifies the switch from high density cement to low density cement as a cause in the development of this disaster. It also correctly identifies that there was a rush to complete the cementing and sealing of the well. However, the description of the last minutes before the explosion and fire leaves something to be desired.

According to the B. Lipták's blog the sequence of events were:

  1. Around 9:40 PM a jolt was felt on the bridge.
  2. Rig shaking followed.
  3. Alarms activated due to the most dangerous level of combustible gas intrusion being detected.
  4. Electricity not turned off.
  5. Gas exploded.
  6. Oil and concrete blown of the well and ignited on deck.
Now according to BP's  Accident Investigation Report the sequence of events were:

  1. At 9:40 PM mud overflowed the flow-line and onto the rig floor.
  2. Approximately 1 minute later mud shot up through the derrick.
  3. Diverter closed and mud routed to mud gas separator and BOP activated.
  4. At 9:42 PM a support ship was advised to move away from the platform.
  5. Over a 5 minute period drill pipe pressure increased from 338 psi to 1200 psi.
  6. At 9:44 PM mud and water escaped through the mud gas separator vents.
  7. At 9:46 PM gas hissing noise heard and high pressure gas discharged towards deck.
  8. At 9:47 PM first gas alarm sounded, vibration felt, drill pipe pressure rapidly increased from 1200 psi to 5730 psi.
  9. At 9:48 PM main power generation engines going into overspeed.
  10. At 9:49 PM the rig lost power, and transmission of real time data was lost.
  11. Approximately 5 seconds after the power loss the first explosion occurred.
  12. Approximately 10 seconds after the first explosion a second explosion occurred.
  13. At 9:52 PM Mayday issued by Deepwater Horizon.

There are several difference in these two timelines. Firstly no jolt or vibration was felt around 9:40 PM. Secondly the BOP was activated, and thirdly power was lost prior to the first explosion. The BOP is designed exactly to deal with a situation like the one experienced by the Macondo well. It is a very large - about 3 floors - and complex valve, which is placed on the sea button to shot off the flow of anything from the well. The BOP failed to do what it was designed to do, and this has subsequently lead to improvements in BOP design.

B. Lipták advocate automating the control of density of the cement used to seal the well. He further advocate the use of redundant reliable sensors and smart annunciators to automatically respond. This is exactly what the BOP is designed to do. But the BOP failed. And how many reliable sensors exist, which work reliably at the temperatures and pressures at the end of a drill pipe?

I am not an expert on BOP's, but I believe that they are tested extensively before they are placed on the sea button, and that they also include sub-system testing after installation. However, since the BOP is designed to cut across the drill pipe testing it in place is not something which is desirable to do. And by its design intent the BOP also disengage the rig from the well. At least to me it is not clear exactly what additional automation can do to prevent something from not working as designed?

Saturday, November 09, 2013

More openess about injuries - and hopefully incidents

Yesterday abc-news reported, that US OSHA plans to make workplace safety reports from large companies public. I think that is good news. Workers should be able to investigate the safety performance of their potential new employer prior to seeking employment. I actually believe, that this will help reduce the number of and severity of workplace safety events, since now the company image will be impacted.

However, given that many events actually happens in companies with just a few employees I would lower the electronic reporting threshold from the suggested 250 to 50 or 25. Currently the Danish government is implementing electronic communication to more than 600.000 companies and other organisations here. This will significantly reduce the communications cost of the government. Here the electronic communication and reporting is rolled out to even the smallest of companies. When I had an active consulting company a few years ago I was required to submit quarterly reports electronically for my 1 person company.

I would also like to see electronic reporting of all process safety events, so the public gets access to the actual event information and not just derived statistics from the Amerian Chemistry Council.

What do you think about these ideas?