Process safety leaders highlight industry issues

20th July 2011

IChemE's South Australian member group presented its Safety in Design seminar in July with an international line-up of speakers highlighting issues faced by the UK chemical and processing industries and how these lessons learned can benefit the Australian process industry.

Participants had the opportunity to hear from current chair of the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and of the IChemE safety centre Judith Hackitt CBE, alongside local speakers Michael Malavazos, chief engineer for the Department of Primary Industries and Resources of South Australia, Shubhraj Shubhraj, Principal OHS Inspector – Major Hazard Facilities, SafeWork SA and member of IChemE, and seminar sponsor Santos’ Michael McCarthy, who is the Chief Facilities Engineer in Projects and Services.

IChemE SA group member chair and associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Adelaide Peter Ashman, said he was pleased with the strong representation from IChemE members and industry: “Judith provided a unique perspective and her presentation outlined the challenges that are being faced by the process and major hazard industries as society grapples with global problems that require innovative solutions that will inevitably involve dealing with risk.

“As we meet these challenges, she urged delegates to look backwards, as well as forwards, to ensure that we learn from past mistakes, not just from our own particular sector of industry, but also from other sectors and other industries.' 

Hackitt cited work undertaken by the HSE and highlighted the key issues as being too focussed on easily measured and sometimes unimportant lagging indicators, which tell us nothing about process performance or asset integrity.

Ashman said: “The need for a focus on leading indicators was a common theme for the seminar and was highlighted independently by each of the speakers, such as a loss of corporate memory - in many cases due to the rapid exchange of businesses and assets without proper attention, to the hand-over of key design documentation and knowledge; and the devaluing of engineering due to a short term focus.”

Hackitt closed by calling for a renewed focus on process safety leadership, for both senior engineers and CEOs and highlighted the need to develop engineers and engineering graduates that are risk aware and insisting that we must produce “graduates where process safety is part of their DNA”.

Elsewhere, Shubhraj highlighted the issue of not confusing personal safety with process safety and called for more attention to be focused on leading rather than lagging indicators and Malavazos outlined a regulator’s perspective of the key elements of preventing and reducing the impact of Major Accident Events (MAE’s).
Malavazos commended the pioneering work by Santos in identifying and quantifying Key Leading Indicators for process safety performance.

From a local industry perspective, McCarthy focussed on practical issues of safety in design from his many years of experience of being responsible at Santos for functional excellence in facilities engineering across all engineering disciplines, corporate engineering standards and the management of the facilities engineering competency framework.

McCarthy also spoke about issues relating to: (i) plant layout; (ii) design activities with a safety focus (e.g. Hazid, Hazop, SIL, etc); (iii) the timing of safety studies within the design process so that they do not occur too late, or too early - citing the example of Hazop studies that occur too early, which can “degenerate” into a de facto ‘design review process’; (iv) the composition of the Hazop team; and (v) the specification of too many alarms within Distributed Control Systems and that these allocations should be properly considered at the design phase.

In closing, Ashman reported that the University of Adelaide is very close to finalising the establishment of an industry funded Associate Chair position in Process Safety and Integrity Management, which is expected to be formally announced in the near future.