Practical Process Safety

Take Your Medicine. A How-To Prescription for Practical Process Safety, Using Hazard Identification, Risk Assessment, Corporate Risk Policy, Consistent Implementation, Thorough Training and Continuous Revaluation—with Help from Harmonizing Standards and New Technical Tools

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Standards Harmonizing

Historically, process safety systems had to meet the rules for the nation or region where they were going to be used, and manufacturers had to adapt and readapt their equipment to comply. This situation is still true for many technologies in many places. However, some standards organizations are bringing their standards together and harmonizing them to produce some truly global standards. This harmonization is already making it easier for process control and automation manufacturers to sell into new areas.

Perhaps the best known harmonization so far is ISA S84’s adoption as IEC 61511. Likewise, the national API 610 standard for centrifugal pumps was recently adopted as international ISP 13709 standard.

Besides coordinating standards, other organizers are beginning to coalesce around common, globally available sets of process safety data that can be used to assist individual safety efforts. Scott Berger, executive director of the Center for Chemical Process Safety, reports that CCPS started a project in 2006 to develop a set of lagging process safety metrics to help companies push improvements and monitor progress in process safety programs. “We’re seeking help from many members, external stakeholders, U.S. trade associations and international groups to adopt these metrics as a harmonized approach to improve industry benchmarking and transparency of industry performance,” says Berger. Besides lagging metrics, CCPS also plans to seek leading metrics and near-miss reporting definitions.

“The process safety metrics that CCPS is putting together is so valuable because no one has been collecting this kind of historical performance information,” says Bert Knegtering, global business development manager for Honeywell Process Solutions’ ( safety consulting services. “For example, if you have a DCS in a particular application that’s out of control, how much change do you need to bring it to a safe condition? This is the kind of experience you can add to these metrics and then use for future RAs.”

Changing Minds

Once an audit, hazop study, risk assessment and safety plans are approved and implemented, then the real work can begin—instructing managers to give them more than lip service and training staff to use them consistently.

“The ISA S84 standard can walk you through the safety life cycle, and you can follow it and understand your process. However, the real challenge is getting users to consistently follow a safety plan because doing it can seem overwhelming at first,” says Charles Fialkowski, national process safety manager at Siemens Energy and Automation. “Users say, ‘I’ve got to make product,’ and so any safety effort is initially seen as a drag on the process.”  

Bob Adamski, principal at RA Safety Consulting LLC in Loudon, Tenn., adds that process safety systems must be automatic because people are too reluctant to initiate a plant’s safety system on their own. “Humans will not push that big red button in a process application because when they do, someone always gets punished and fired,” says Adamski.

Of course, this is a pretty clear indication of putting profit before safety.

“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” says Dr. Sam Mannan, director of the Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. “Industries and governments have a lot of process safety rules in place, and they’re developing better tools, establishing real penalties and encouraging the culture change needed for process safety to make more gains,” says Mannan. “However, it’s still pretty scandalous how little data collection and metrics we have for process safety. Industry and government track all kinds of economic indicators at local, state and national levels, but there’s no tracking of process safety issues that could help save people’s lives and prevent injuries by holding companies accountable for making continuous safety improvements. I think firms should report safety performance data to stakeholders and the public because process safety is actually one of the main things that make them profitable. A company that isn’t running safely isn’t going to be sustainable in the long run.”

Russ Elveston, PE, a consulting safety engineer and 30-year OSHA veteran, agrees that PSM requires capital to implement, but is still a good investment. “Process safety is a quality program that can improve bottom lines, but no one believes it until they see the numbers over time,” says Elveston.

Still, adopting practical process safety often means overcoming a huge amount of psychological baggage and denial. “Some users don’t want to seek or think about that edge,” says Summers.

One well-known effort that seeks to enlighten and update traditional process safety attitudes is Shell Exploration & Production’s Hearts and Minds program. Established in 2002, the program was developed by Shell and the U.K.-based Energy Institute and helps companies involve all of their staff members in better managing health, safety and environmental issues. Its organizational presentations include “Understanding your Culture,” “Seeing Yourself as Others See You,” Bringing Your RA Matrix to Life,” “Improving Supervision,” “Managing Rule Breaking” and others.

Enlightening Litigators, Too

Besides changing the old attitudes of their colleagues, engineers willing to discuss and document process safety efforts openly must also convert their firms’ attorneys. “We’re still seeing some hesitancy on the part of the legal community about putting an official stamp of approval on a risk matrix because they’re worried about the exposure of a potential plaintiff using that information,” says Campbell. “It’s taking awhile, but even the lawyers are becoming convinced that it’s a more defensible position if you can show you have a consistently applied RA combined with a risk matrix that puts you in the same ballpark as the rest of your industry.”

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