Acclimate to practical safety or else

April 28, 2021
Steve Gandy and Patrick O'Brien of exida examine the Texas freeze and other events, and show how online and digitalized tools can help users improve process safety
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As if the pandemic wasn't enough, several other events continue to remind owners and operators of the need for well-considered process safety solutions.

For instance, the mid-February freeze and power outages shuttered many plants in Texas, and also forced many of the state's refineries to close because they don't have the heat-trace equipment used in colder regions to keep oil and gas production thawed and running, according to Dr. Steve Gandy, global business development VP at exida. An engineering consultant and safety/cybersecurity certifying organization, exida recently partnered with integrated, digital oilfield automation provider Sensia to expand its process safety lifecycle services and increase its global coverage. 

"We visited and talked with end users who were shut down for weeks, either because they had no power or their pipes and valves froze," says Gandy. "Many plants have backup power, and could shut down safety if they had to, but others couldn't get into their facilities or couldn't deploy more than a skeleton staff because of continuing COVID-19 restrictions. One client's power came back, but they still couldn't get back in. The freeze and the pandemic were a real double whammy."

Similar to almost all manufacturers, businesses and organizations during COVID-19, Gandy reports that exida and its clients shifted to using remote-work tools and gathering virtually on Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other  teleconferencing platforms. "We're doing risk assessments (RA) using web-based meeting setups," says Gandy. "This usually involves running two online meetings in parallel. One consists of the P&IDs, while the other presents the risk assessment (RA) documents. This lets the team in a hazard and operability (HazOp) study meeting share everything on two larger screens, and review and discuss changes more easily. Video from wearable cameras are now core to what we do because their images can be engaging and help us build relationships, and we're using them for factory acceptance tests (FAT), too."   

Gandy acknowledges these online, virtual and multimedia tools were unwieldy in the beginning, but exida and its clients practiced and quickly became comfortable with them. "Just like everyone, we adapted to working remotely and onscreen, and it became more workable," explains Gandy. "However, we've also had to deal with some plants and locations that had poor Wi-Fi, or make sure some cameras weren't chewing up too much bandwidth. We also found that we couldn't do more than eight hours of virtual meetings because they're more tiring and eventually make it harder to focus than in-person ones, so we broke them into four-hour chunks. And, where it used to take a couple of days to do two RAs, we can now do two in two half-day sessions online."

Roadmaps, cybersecurity and CHazOps   

Global pandemic waves and overarching digital transformations aside, exida reports that each process application, facility and company has it own combination of process safety issues and must find the right blend of remedies to solve them.

"Functional safety, cybersecurity and alarm management all play into process safety, and have lifecycles that overlap," says Gandy. "Each end user and their company approaches process safety based on their needs, culture and maturity. Some need to look closely at managing alarms and some don't. Some want to do the bare minimum on safety, while others want to look at all three areas, so we help them create a roadmap that suits their availability and coordinates their functional safety, cybersecurity and alarms."

Gandy adds that process safety could be further improved if users had more standardized methods of gathering, storing and distributing information. "There are still many inconsistent ways of collecting field data that also need cybersecurity," says Gandy, who reports that the standards that talk about data collection include IEC 61508/61511, IEC 6300, ISO 14224 and NAMUR 93.

Patrick O'Brien, functional safety and cybersecurity engineer at exida, reports it's also working with the Center for Chemical Process Safety on the ways that cybersecurity is impacting process safety. This has become especially pressing because the IEC 61511 standard's clause 8.2.4 that was updated in 2016 requires that users perform cybersecurity RA as part of implementing their safety instrumented system (SIS). O'Brien adds that exida and CCPS are even writing a book that will be released in 3Q21.

"Even with the impact of digital transformation, process safety still comes down to a cost/benefit analysis of the added complexity the solution will require compared to the added risk that needs to be addressed," says O'Brien. "The overall benefit is better insights, tracking failure trends and taking corrective action before an incident occurs, and improving operations while also keeping them safe. Process safety and cybersecurity both need to be part of each organization's management of change (MOC) procedures, so when they upgrade equipment or alter a network, they'll ask if doing so could have an impact on safety?"

Similarly, exida is also employing controls HazOp (CHazOp) to make sure that potential hazards aren't introduced when users upgrade their control systems. "HazOps usually deal with issues like high temperatures and pressures, but a CHazOp deals with the risks of losing central processing units (CPU), power and communications in control systems, which could lead to unsafe shutdowns. Of course, this also goes along with cybersecurity issues," explains Gandy. "We also make this part of our three-part roadmap approach based on each user's safety maturity model, and how much functional safety, cybersecurity and alarm management they have in place. We talk about pain points and priorities because we don't want to ram safety standards down anyone's throat."

About the author: Jim Montague
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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