Author: Richard Carter, Operations Manager & PHA Facilitator
The novel coronavirus has caused a double impact to operating companies in the energy sector by causing economic and staffing scarcity. The tough economic climate is causing tightening of budgets and reduction in the funds allocated to safety. Limiting the spread of the virus requires minimally staffing all facilities, with staff working remotely wherever possible and limiting shift changeovers. There is also the complication that any employee may be required to self-isolate at any time if they show any one of a number of symptoms related to the COVID-19 disease, meaning that critical personnel may be unable to work from site at a moment’s notice.
In these unprecedented times, it’s important to ensure that the emotional response to risk, which is typically not a subject for discussion, is addressed and employees are supported emotionally and educated adequately.
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In light of these challenges, it may seem impossible that we can maintain the same standard of process safety. Many plants are operating at a reduced rate, and some are even being shut down due to both COVID-19, the drop in oil prices, and the difficult economy. More frequent shutdowns and start-ups, or reduced operations and staffing, are certain to have a significant impact on safe operations and will increase stress on personnel.
To meet these challenges, however, there are new solutions developing and innovators are stepping up every moment, all over the globe. From successfully transitioning entire workforces to home offices, to developing new ways to connect and keep in touch with family and friends we are demonstrating our resiliency. Similarly, there are opportunities available to counter the potentially negative impacts to process safety and maintain operational excellence.
Focus on What’s Most Critical
The CCPS Process Safety Beacon titled “Don’t forget safety in a difficult economy!” (www.aiche.org/ccps/resources/process-safety-beacon/archives/2009/june/english) was first issued in 2009 and remains just as relevant 11 years later. One of the key recommendations in this Beacon is “Understand what activities are safety critical in your facility, and make sure these activities are not compromised by economic pressures.”
In times of scarcity such as these it is inevitable that some compromises will be made. Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell where you can make cuts and where you must not.
Do you have the answer to the following questions?
- Which safeguarding devices or processes are the most critical to keep well-maintained?
- Which people-related safeguards are you relying on the most?
- Are all these critical devices and processes working correctly?
If the answer to any of these questions is “I don’t know,” now is the time to find out!
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Using PHA Data to Uncover Criticality
Your Process Hazards Analysis (PHA) data can be used to answer the first two of the above questions. By analyzing how many times a given safeguard/IPL is used for risk reduction within a PHA, the risk of the associated scenarios, the reliability given to that safeguard in the PHA, and considering any other safeguards for the same scenarios, a picture can be built of the relative criticality of all safeguarding devices and processes.
Once you know which are the critical devices and processes working hardest to keep your workers and process safe, you can start to investigate how reliable those safeguards are. For automated and mechanical safeguards, you can ensure they are up-to-date on maintenance, testing, and calibration, and that they are not currently bypassed or ignored.
For people-related safeguards you can verify that they are effective and being followed appropriately. Furthermore, they understand which procedures and processes are protecting them the most and therefore must not be deviated from, everyone can make better, informed decisions.
Having this criticality information can preserve valuable learnings and PSI (process safety information) for today and for future generations. This is a great way to promote employee participation and training (the 1st and 2nd elements from OSHA 1910, PSM elements).
Automated Criticality with Risk Alive® Analytics
The Safeguard Ranking module of Risk Alive Analytics, shown below, takes your PHA data in its native form and determines the relative criticality for all safeguards across one unit or the whole facility. The advanced algorithms and leveraging of comparative data ensures you have the most accurate information to base your decisions and prioritization on.
Keep Knowledge Up to Date
Of course, if your PHA is due for revalidation, a retrofit, or a new baseline, it is still essential to keep moving forward with your risk analyses. Being up to date with these gives you the best information to make these criticality decisions and allows you to re-evaluate your risk and protections in our current environment of modified operations and reduced personnel availability.
Fortunately, with some minor adjustments to the ground rules it is still possible to run an effective and efficient PHA study remotely, with each team member in a separate location. ACM Facility Safety has been facilitating in person and remote PHAs effectively for years. With our knowledge, expertise and technology, we are able to continuously uncover hidden hazards without disruption to your business. Above all, we deliver every time in a cost-conscious way. Contact ACM to learn how to maximize your next PHA session!