Solving the Process Safety Puzzle

Integrated Safety Systems Offer One Solution, but No One-Size-Fits-All Fix Exists

By Nancy Bartels

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He also suggests that maintenance is easier with separate systems. "Two people can work on troubleshooting hardware/circuits issues at the same time because of separated cabinets, preventing human mistakes in case any work on the DCS leads to a trip from the ESDS [emergency shutdown system]. If there is hardware in common cabinets, there is higher probability this can happen."

Chris O'Brien, a partner at safety and security consultancy exida says, "Even with integrated systems, you have separate controllers. [The separation] sends the message, ‘Thou shalt not touch.' If you start blending the systems, people are not going to remember that they can't make changes. You want to keep the safety system separate, so that even mentally operators don't think they can get in and make changes to it."

Read Also: Good Safety = Good Business at Goodyear

Triconex' Elliott says, "Objections tend to be driven by application. If it's an upstream application, the last thing you want is an unsafe asset. Security is one of the things you have to think about. The threat is no longer just solely in the process." He adds, "People saw integration as allowing operations to see all the information in one place. OPC UA can integrate data and still be secure. I can have all the information I need and still keep a separate system."

Building a Safety Culture

The fact is, no matter where you come down on the separate/integrated issue, no safety system will be any good if the corporate culture doesn't take safety seriously. The money spent on a good system of whatever kind has to be authorized by the folks on the C-team. If they don't believe that safety is important enough to spend money on, it won't get spent.
And companies that take safety seriously go well beyond installing automated systems, separate or integrated.

In the aftermath of the 1989 Valdez accident, ExxonMobil launched a full-scale, top-to-bottom review of operations and implemented far-reaching actions that today guide every operating decision made on a daily basis, says Patricia Sparrell, Automation, optimization and global support manager, at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Co. The vision was to reorient the company to put the safety of people, facilities and the environment at the heart of everything the company does."
ExxonMobil created what the company calls its Operations Integrity Management System (OIMS)—a rigorous 11-point set of elements designed to identify hazards and manage safety, security, health and environmental risks.

But people are at the heart of the system. "Even the best safety systems are ineffective unless they exist as part of a broader culture of safety," says Sparrell. "OIMS is enabled by the belief that leadership influences culture, and culture drives behavior. Therefore, leaders have to set expectations, build structures that support safety efforts, and teach others to do the same."

She continues, "OIMS is not just window dressing, but rather integrated into day-to-day operations. The standard 11 elements and 65 expectations included in OIMS are the same for all employees, no matter where they are in the organization. From there, each business supplements the framework by establishing and maintaining guidelines relevant to its specific activities. Finally, local management systems provide additional guidance, including processes and procedures, responsible and accountable resources, and feedback mechanisms for continuous improvement. There is clear accountability from top to bottom."

Teaching Safety

At the Hungary-based MOL Group, one of the largest energy companies in central Europe, executives were not happy with the safety performance of the company and wanted to bring it up to a favorable comparison with its peers. In 2003, MOL had recorded 55 lost time injuries (LTI) and a lost time injury frequency (LTIF) rate of 2.6, an indicator measuring LTI cases against one million hours worked. The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers in its 2003 safety performance report recorded an average rate less than half that of MOL—1.16 LTIF—among its 36 member companies.
MOL decided to approach the safety issues in two phases: laying the foundations for an overall shift in mindset and attitude to safety and then building on the continuous cultural change.

MOL brought in safety consultants from DuPont to help. Working together, they developed the Safe Workplaces Project that involved MOL's 14,000 employees. The project covers everything from more training for employees to redesigning helmets and safety glasses to work together better to conducting audits of behavior—on everyone from the youngest operators to the top management.

The audits focus on a dialog with employees about safety, acknowledging positive behavior and convincing them that unsafe behaviors make for unnecessary risks. The next step is to jointly develop a safer approach to the work.

Kornélia Procházková, project manager at MOL Group, says, "Even executives conduct behavioral audits, and when they come to visit a plant, operatives can see that they now wear safety helmets, safety glasses and safety shoes; in other words, the same equipment the operatives themselves have to wear. That sends an important and positive message."

The result of the audits and subsequent HSE action plans was that the number of LTIs dropped from nine in 2005 to three in 2008, and the LTIF rate dropped from 1.53 to 0.6.

But MOL went even farther. It brought in a dedicated DuPont consultant to work onsite to help develop training programs, KPIs for evaluating success, workshops to train MOL employees to be safety experts and make the entire program self-sustaining.

To ensure that everyone in the group knows what is expected of them, all process safety management requirements have now been set out in the new MOL Group PSM Global Operative Regulation. Process safety management has been made mandatory for all hazardous operations, and contractors are given a set of standard requirements they have to abide by if they want to work for MOL Group.

Obviously, implementing such a system takes time, effort, commitment and reinforcement. Good automated systems can help by reinforcing safe procedures and making sure employees can't work around them, but systems can only go so far. At some point, beginning with top management, the decision has to be made that shortcuts are not acceptable, and that taking the time and spending the money to operate safely is mandatory.

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