Thursday, June 12, 2014

Are the best also the safest?

In the May issue of Hydrocarbon Processing there is viewpoint titled "What characteristics define the world's best refineries?". It is by Jon D. Stroup, who is a senior consultant with HSB Solomon Associates in Dallas, Texas. A short version was presented at the 112th American Fuels & Petrochemical Manufactores Annual Meeting in March this year, and AFPM version is freely available on the internet.

For 30 years HSB Solomon Associates have been gathering performance data for refineries around the world, and given their clients a view on how the clients own refinery performs relative to all refineries being monitored. The HP viewpoint Jon Stroup claim, the best refineries have a high availability of their plants. He further states, that there is a strong correlation between high availability and low total maintenance cost.

The best are not necessarily the lowest cost refiners. On the cost spectrum the best refiners lie on the border line between the first and second quartile w.r.t. cost.  The article further states, that the best refineries don't have the longest turnaround time. In stead they optimize cost and length of outtage.

Now, I cannot help wondering - given the above information - if the best refineries are also the safest refineries? I believe they must be, but it would be nice to data from the HSB Solomon Associates studies to support this.

If best and safest correlate, then we need to develop a tool for the process industries in general using the ideas, which HSB Solomon Associates have been using for the past 30 years. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

An article for your board of directors!

After the BP Texas City Refinery explosion and fire, that killed almost twenty people and injured many more we got the Baker report, which clearly stated, that company board of directors had responsibility for process safety at their facilities. You can read what the Washington Post stated about this report here and you can download the report from the CSB website here (Here 7 years after its release all BP webpages relating to the report appear to have disappeared. I wonder what that says about BP and safety?).

Some companies have been taking important steps to ensure that all their process hazard studies including HAZOP are performed to a consistent high level However, to accomplish this you need involvement at the board level to ensure, that those leading your PHA's and other process safety activities have clear knowledge of what the company expect of them. The board also need to ensure that adherence approach decided on is regularly tested. One of the major German chemical companies have done that. They now have internal procedures for what training a person need before she/he is allowed to lead a safety study.

However, if you don't have access to safety professionals or board members of this German company, that you can improve your own company situation by having board members read the article "Minimize false assurances in hazard analyses" by Mike Sawyer in the May issue of Hydrocarbon Processing (A subscription is needed to download the article).

Sawyer points out where many hazard analyses fail. A study, e.g. using the HAZOP approach, is performed based on deviations from normal operations. Often this will not cover items such as the process safety impact of overdue or deferred process safety management audit findings and actions items, delays in completing management of change, systems operating without defined operating paramters (e.g. not-to-operate-beyond-limits), deferred preventive maintenance activities, overdue / deferred inspections of e.g. vessels and relief valves, bypassed or out-of-service critical alarms, blocked relief valves, overdue operating procedure reviews, incomplete or out-of-date process safety information, isolation philosophy for emergencies, operating-envelope changes, increases in operational and/or maintenance tasks per shift, equipment failures incorrectly documented as routine maintenance, are just some of the items listed by Sawyer in his Table 1.

Other common deficiencies in hazard analyses listed by Sawyer are: failury to identify changed operating parameters, failure to identify re-rating of vessels or equipment, including out-of-service safety devices as safeguards, over reliance on operator intervention to mitigate emergencies, included inspections / tests as safeguards when these have been deferred, under-estimation of hazard severity, confusion between hazard and consequences.

Sawyer also mention how JSA/JHA in many organisation have become just another checklist to be completed before one can start the work. The issue here is culture, not the tool provided. A major Norwegian company started paying more attention to their contractors on a daily basis, and this had an impact on number of near miss events. Sometimes attitude changes is all that is needed.

I believe, that Sawyer's article also indirectly tells us why the many academic attempts to automate HAZOP over the past 20 years have all to a large degree completely failed. These studies mostly fail to deal with the organizational and training issues. Another reason could be the academic fascination with model, without providing methods to ensure, that the models used are actually suitable for their intended use.

In my view to improve process safety requires a fundamental change in culture in many companies and in societies these companies are part of, and not just another model.

Friday, June 06, 2014

How much does a video prevent future events?

Yesterday the CSB released an 11-minute animation of the Bluewater Horizon Blowout, which can be downloaded here as a Quicktime movie. This video elegantly shows what happened in the blow-out preventer on April 20th, 2010 in a fashion so even non-experts has a change to understand why this device failed to prevent the largest (I disagree with this label. Several prior events seem to have much longer time impact, than this. For example the Exxon Valdez in Alaska or Love Canal) environmental disaster in US history.

However, I am very disappointed, that the CSB not with a single word mention in the video the organizational issues on the platform, the conflicting agendas of the platform owner and the well owner, and the failure of the well owner to escalate decision making to the proper level in their organization. A platform like the Deepwater Horizon cost substantial amount of money to operate, so the cost of just a few extra days at the Macondo well potential could influence the share price of the well owner. Therefore a decision to delay the movement of the platform in order for the concrete used to seal the well to properly settle could have cost that require a decision at a much higher level in the company, than the well manager on duty on the platform. The procedure for such an escalation did not exist within the organisation of the well owner.

Five years earlier ExxonMobil was drilling in a nearby area, when kicks were experienced. A similar discussion at the Blackbeard well between people wanting to continue drilling and people wanting to stop drilling, was within hours moved form the platform level to the company headquarter. The company CEO at the time chose to stop drilling at a large loss. That saved the company image.

I think we need much more discussion on organisational issue and decision making structures in order to make a step change in the industry safety performance. Similarly it would be very nice if CSB also provided use with educational video, which showed the impact of such organisational questions. That would help teach engineers that there is more questions and answers than the pure technical ones.

Unfortunately a proposal put before the EPSC TSC in the early years of this millenium to look at the impact on process safety of organisation changes did not get off the ground. I hope someone will get the ball rolling.