Process Safety and Sustainability are a Two-Way Street

Effective Personal Safety, Process Safety and Asset Integrity Programs Can All Contribute to Sustainability Improvements

By Jim Montague

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ABB A&PW 2012

Everyone is waking up to the fact that process safety and mechanical integrity are costs that can pay back big dividends in decreased downtime and improved efficiency in many applications. But what's less well-known is that investing in safety can also contribute to operational and process sustainability.

In short, safety is green. And, conversely, focusing on sustainability issues can even help improve process safety and mechanical integrity, according to Rob Smith, senior consultant and business development manager for process safety and integrity management services at ABB Consulting.

"Traditionally, personal safety focused on the actions of individuals, their awareness, culture, training, inspections and other factors that could affect them," said Smith. "However, process safety management (PSM) is based on OSHA's 1910.119 standard and focuses more on how an individual or application could affect anyone in the area or beyond. PSM covers normal and abnormal operations and their effects both on-site and off-site. Meanwhile, asset integrity management concentrates on design, overall operations, maintenance, inspections and other issues.

"Consequently, there's always been a lot of overlap between personal safety, PSM and asset integrity, but there also have been walls between them. So we want them to relate better and overlap in more helpful ways. People are the common element, of course, and we seek to align and optimize people, processes and plants for their best performance and increased sustainability." 

Smith presented "The Impact of Safety, Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity on Sustainability" this week at the ABB Automation & Power World 2012 conference in Houston, Texas. ABB Consulting is an international technical and management consultancy focused on oil and gas, chemical, pharmaceutical and other process applications. Its North American division was formed just over a year ago in 2011, but its 500 employees have been part of ABB Group for about 12 years. ABB Consulting's core organization was part of ICI Engineering Services for many decades.

So what's located at the overlapping point between personal safety, PSM and asset integrity? Smith reports that it is

  • Process safety leadership and culture,
  • Safe work practices and procedures,
  • Operating procedures and practices,
  • Management of change (MOC),
  • Audit and review of regulatory compliance,
  • Emergency response and preparedness,
  • Process hazard analysis (PHA) and review,
  • Management of organizational change (MOOC),
  • Safe systems of work,
  • Alarm management,
  • Safety integrity level/layers of protection analysis (SIL/LOPA),
  • Human factors.

Smith explained that occupational safety can be thought of as analogous to dog bites, which don't seem very serious, but kill about 35 people in the United States per year. However, mechanical integrity is more like snake bites, which appear to be more serious, but only cause 15 deaths in the United States per year. Meanwhile, process safety is embodied by a black bear in a cage, which is fearsome, but typically only results in two or three deaths per year.

"The lesson is to not let misperceptions fool you," explained Smith. "When evaluating safety and implementing solutions, you don't want to just focus on easy-to-spot items that aren't very dangerous, but miss routine items that could be far more hazardous. Many users and managers concentrate their safety efforts on mitigating frequent, low-severity events, but neglect to deal with hairy, complex problems that are more difficult and costly to solve. More recent calls to adopt sustainability practices could help users refocus on the need to address safety issues too."  

As a result, Smith advises that a more sustainable safety environment can be created by:

  • Defining a thorough risk profile;
  • Developing well-defined plans for safety, process safety and asset integrity management;
  • Involving everyone in your organization from the board room to the lunch room;
  • Determining key leading and lagging measures for your business.

"Safety and sustainability are both tied to the vision of the organization," concluded Smith. "So you have to know where you're at, define where you want to be, secure an executive champion and think five to 25 years into the future to accomplish a truly sustainable solution that exists in a bigger context. Likewise, safety can improve efficiency and establish a safer environment, and this will improve throughput and profit too."

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