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Process Safety Impacts of a Remote & Reduced Workforce

Written by Risk Alive

April 20, 2020

The rampant spread of COVID-19 has led to community quarantines and isolation protocols around the world and these protocols are causing unprecedented, impacts to workforces in high-hazard processing facilities. The pandemic situation introduces new and unanticipated risks exacerbated by the shutting in of refineries, and production facilities due to market conditions. Worksites now need to manage production in tandem with market needs while working with unpredictable changes in staff capacity.

That means action needs to be taken quickly, to prevent incidents resulting from a reduced workforce. In these times of uncertainty, we know:

  • Most significant process safety incidents occur during non-routine operations which we are experiencing now with reduced or modified staffing and fluctuating production levels
  • Availability of your essential, experienced personnel will fluctuate unpredictably
  • The remaining workforce will need access to critical risk information in new ways
  • Cloud based technology and tools are the best way to ensure critical risk knowledge is centralized, shared and used consistently.

What can we learn from past incidents?1

  • Within the Texas City incident, there were potential contributing factors related to reduced staffing levels and worker fatigue resulting in operations being challenged during a start-up situation – as many sites that are operating, are doing so with reduced numbers, has Organizational Change Management concepts been applied?
  • Within the Flixborough incident, there were potential contributing factors related to Management of Change and missing technical oversight – as many sites that are operating, are doing so with technical staff working remotely, how are changes being managed and how are Pre-Start-up Safety Reviews being conducted?
  • Within the LaPorte incident, as operations was working through technical challenges they appeared to be Normalizing a number of warning signs – again with technical staff working remotely, what processes are in place to minimize Normalization of Deviance through this difficult time period?
  • Within the Longford incident, there were potential contributing factors associated with technical staff being relocated offsite, when problems occurred, key corporate knowledge wasn’t available to those individuals managing the situation – again with technical staff working remotely, how are groups like engineering assisting operations in the case of Abnormal Operations?

These are not easy challenges to navigate – but staying ahead, or on top, of these issues will help streamline daily operations and support your team while building for business continuity on a long-term scale.

Relying on technology, data and existing business process as parts of the complex mix of considerations required in managing these challenges can be overwhelming and complicated.  

One tool that helps simplify this necessary approach is our own Risk Alive® analytical platform. We’ve worked hard over the last five years to create a sophisticated, powerful system designed to help lighten the leadership load especially in times like this.

Risk Alive®

  1. Prioritizes actions for your most critical safeguards, and audit critical elements to measure their effectiveness.
  2. Develop contingency and mitigation strategies where needed
  3. Identifies key human factors in your high-risk scenarios
  4. Determines your facility’s reliance on human intervention as a safeguard
  5. Educates site personnel on the importance and vulnerabilities of the safeguards
  6. Enables senior operations to provide remote support to site personnel on issues that surface

Curious what this means for your team? Connect with us – we’re always ready to help, now more than ever.

1Credit to Fred Henselwood, CCPS & AIChE

To read more on managing process safety during COVID-19 please visit the AIChE CCPS Monograph: https://www.aiche.org/ccps/publications/process-safety-monographs

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