being about to fall down because it has wood
termites, but I’m spending all my time painting it! I focus all my efforts on a process for
painting. It’s a false sense of security. Operators
need to know how to practically apply process
safety on the plant.
KK: Operators don’t get a good picture of
how change affects risk management or the
aspects of the job where they are the critical
factor in managing risk. Often, when investigating the failure of an asset, the question
to operations is typically, “Why weren’t you
paying better attention?” And the challenge
back, “Pay better attention to what, and how?”
MN: Process safety designs safeguards. It
doesn’t really look at how risk is managed in
real-time. But then, process safety teams are
also not a strong voice in the organization.
They don’t have a significant budget and are
always vying for priority with plenty of other
groups in the organization.
KK: Our risk models rely on the operator for 99% execution. We don’t often explain
where operations teams really need to be at
the top of their game. And we don’t explain
that when facilities change, they are poten-
tially operating in a higher risk environment.
The CSB report on the explosion of the elec-
trostatic precipitator in the Torrance refinery
pointed out that as Operations became focused
on the tasks required to complete the shut-
down, they became unaware that the situation
continued to change. They didn’t know the
importance of the key process safety barriers
JT: It takes a lot of hard work and commu-
nication between the engineer, management,
and the operators on what risk management
is all about.
Question: Who is responsible for managing risk?
JT: Everyone, from the CEO, all the way
to an operator, mechanic, engineer, supervisor – all levels of management and workers.
Everyone has a key and different role to
play, but risk management should permeate
throughout the organization.
KK: We’re a long way from being able to
take the operator out of risk management,
So management is responsible for having
systems in place to make operators aware of
changing risk patterns. Ultimately, executives
have to recognize this is part of managing
process safety risk.
MN: Yes, ultimately it lands at the top of the
tree. Executives have to make sure the right
people are involved in the right processes
and they do the right things. But I would say
operations are in control of the plan. They are
at the sharp end, so they should be satisfied
personally that the risk level is acceptable.
That said, where there are multiple levels of
decision-making, it can be confusing when it
comes to who owns risk.
GC: In our most recent Aberdeen Group
environmental, health and safety study, about a
third of respondents have a formal risk manage-
ment organization in place. That’s presumably
how they establish a framework for risk management. Does it build a risk awareness culture
across the organization? It can. Whether those
companies have also got the necessary col-
laborative approach across business units to
make it happen is another question.
Question: What critical process safety in-
formation do people who make the daily decisions about operating a plant need?
GC: When we talk about making daily decisions, operational data must correlate with the
management of process safety and vis-a-vis.
Management needs to analyze the plant and
the processes that relate to PSM. And then
this needs to be incorporated into operational
dashboards – in an actionable way.
MN: Operators need data that clearly
shows if something unexpected is happening,
what the impact could be, how that affects the
program of work, the threats it creates – and
of course, the effect of any remedial reaction.
Their number one priority is containment, so
they need data on the integrity of pipes and
vessels, and critically, the condition of the
actual detection systems themselves.
J T: There is a lot of information that people
need to make decisions. KPIs are needed at
the management level to help make decisions
about operations, resources, and priorities. At
the engineering level, they need inspection
and test data to help determine frequencies
of maintenance and repairs. And then the
operator needs data to understand the current
state of a process and what the risk is of the
tasks they are completing.
One of the key issues is there is so much
data; it’s hard to figure out what is really mean-
ingful. So you need to clearly identify that type
of information. And then the importance and
the timing of activities are key, so operators
can determine what’s urgent and what can
wait. You need a whole picture of risk based
on data – so decisions aren’t isolated from
everything else that’s going on in a facility.
KK: That consolidation of information
is certainly vital to more rational decision-making. The trouble is we don’t provide con-
solidated systems for operations to effectively
assess if they can take one more step in their
With the Macondo blowout, for example,
roughly 11 layers of protection needed to
be in place to prevent the scenario that hap-
pened. One-by-one those layers of protection
were whittled away. The response was always,
“well that’s okay because we’ve got this other
ultimate layer of protection.”
So it shows even a plant with multiple pro-
tection layers can experience a major hazard
because of an accumulation of relatively harm-
less decisions. The current process safety
barrier status must be visible to operations,
the front line but also management so ap-
propriate decisions can be made.
MN: Ultimately, operators need data that
shows whether it is safe to operate the plant.
Many Gulf of Mexico facilities are reaching
maturity. Local operators and those in other
basins should take note of what is happening
in the North Sea and implement changes to
the way operational risk and activities are
Question: How well informed are front line
leaders and workers about the role of process
safety barriers in preventing incidents?
KK: I’d say they’re only barely aware of the
layers of protection. In many cases, operations
– even first-line engineers – are not aware of
the scenarios that could lead to a catastrophic
event in their unit. The scenarios have never
really been collated in a useful way for them.
I think there’s a general failure to really communicate, on a shift-by-shift basis, the status
of key barriers on any given day. For example,
I spoke to a team recently where there was
something wrong with a detective device for a
piece of safety-critical equipment. The company
said “the operator is going to pay more atten-
tion,” but nobody translated that into what that
meant for the operator and how they would do
it. And that’s the most important thing when
operations are making daily decisions.