Did you know there are millions of pieces of equipment in any process facility? Sometimes there are tens of millions or more. For the asset integrity and maintenance professionals who are tasked with keeping everything running smoothly, it’s a mammoth job and while perfection may be attainable, it’s far from simple to achieve.
To add complexity, some of that equipment is critical to maintain safe operations (Safety Critical Equipment or SCE), if that equipment breaks there’s the risk of loss of life.
What weighs heaviest in the priorities? How are the priorities of production and safety balanced in that weighting plan? What happens when there’s a global pandemic and commodity prices fall through the floor? We all know keeping the plant running is important but when budgets are tight, sacrifices are made. Looking at most of the biggest industrial accidents throughout history, the degradation of equipment used for risk mitigation is nearly always a core cause. Building an SCE list is a great way to start and it helps identify those risk mitigating pieces of equipment for prioritization.
The problem with SCE lists is that they can be very long and cover a lot of equipment. In many cases, especially larger facilities, there can be tens of thousands of pieces of equipment on those lists. Prioritization within the SCE list is an interesting area for exploration and is essential when cost reductions come into play and fewer resources are available to perform the work. The most obvious way to start is with the equipment by preventing the highest hazard scenarios. This ensures those risks will remain mitigated and gives you a better chance of keeping production running safely.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Cumulative risk reduction is an area explored by few and is a highly valuable perspective when prioritizing your biggest risk reducing equipment. It’s important to not only focus on the consequences prevented but also the number of scenarios where an SCE is used, the presence of other safeguards/ IPLs and the likelihood of other initiating events for those scenarios. To truly prioritize the safeguards that matter most, a deeper look is necessary.
6 Questions You Can Ask To Identify Your Critical Equipment
- Do you have a Safety Critical Equipment (SCE) list?
- Which equipment is used in the PHA for risk reduction?
- Do key personnel in operations, maintenance and other groups know what is being used in PHAs?
- What are your biggest equipment related threats in your facility to prevent through active maintenance?
- How do you triage overdue maintenance items?
- Do you keep track of overdue maintenance tickets and who is accountable to develop contingency plans to mitigate that risk?
Risk Management is Serious Business
There is a long list of incidents that have occurred due to the failure of critical safety equipment and in fact it is probably among the most common causes of major incidents. Here are just a few examples identified by the CSB:
ExxonMobil – 2015 – Torrance, CA – Refinery Explosion
“The CSB found that this incident occurred due to weaknesses in the ExxonMobil Torrance refinery process safety management system. These weaknesses led to operation of the FCC unit without pre-established safe operating limits and criteria for unit shutdown, reliance on safeguards that could not be verified, the degradation of a safety-critical safeguard, and the re-use of a previous procedure deviation without a sufficient hazard analysis that confirmed that the assumed process conditions were still valid.”
DuPont – 2008 – Belle, WV – Phosgene Release
“The phosgene hose that burst in front of a worker was supposed to be changed out at least once a month, but the hose that failed had been in service for seven months.”
BP – 2005 – Texas City, TX – Refinery Explosion
“The investigative team found a number of problems with the facility’s preventative maintenance program that were causally related to the March 23 accident. The CSB concluded that BP supervisory personnel were aware of the equipment problems with the level transmitter before the March 23 startup but still had signed off on equipment checks as if they had been done, which the report said reflected the prevalence of production pressures at the refinery.”
Do you know the full picture of your SCE?
Are you aware of gaps in your SCE management process you haven’t been able to fix?
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