Six IChemE members feature in engineering documentary

Six IChemE members feature in engineering documentary

20th January 2022

Six leading chemical engineers and members of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) feature as experts in the second television series of Disasters Engineered on the National Geographic channel.

IChemE Past President Stephen Richardson, Ken Patterson, from IChemE’s Loss Prevention Bulletin (LPB) editorial panel and Zsuzsanna Gyenes, Deputy to the Director of the IChemE Safety Centre (ISC), share their technical accounts and lessons that process safety and hazardous industry professionals have learned from several of the incidents in the 10-part series.

Joining them are former IChemE presidents Dame Judith Hackitt, Chair of the manufacturing organisation Make UK, and Geoffrey Maitland, Professor of Energy Engineering at Imperial College London, as well as Fiona Macleod, Chair of the LPB editorial panel, who all featured in the first series of the documentary in 2020.

In the documentary, Richardson shares technical insights into the causes and effects of the Piper Alpha oil and gas platform explosion in the North Sea in 1988. For nearly 40 years, Richardson has worked at Imperial College London teaching chemical engineering and researching depressurisation of high-pressure hydrocarbon systems. From this, he became a process safety expert, investigated many major process accidents in the oil and gas industry, and gave technical evidence during the Piper Alpha inquiry.

Richardson said:

“Everyone is responsible for keeping operations as safe as possible. It is vital that we learn from the tragic incidents in this documentary and, as professional engineers, use our skills, knowledge and continue to share these learnings with the future generations, so everyone is equipped to best manage the risks that hazards pose and mitigate their effects should an issue occur.

“Like Piper Alpha, key lessons from many of the incidents in the documentary include considering whole systems (not isolated parts of them), having robust processes in place to manage them, and creating a culture where everyone - no matter what position within an organisation - feels empowered to communicate and will be heard.”

Patterson is a process safety consultant who was in the team which developed, and now teaches, IChemE’s Fundamentals of Process Safety training course. He features in the episode examining the Flint water crisis in the US, where the decision to reinstate a water treatment plant that had been disused for 50 years saw more than 100,000 people exposed to drinking water contaminated with lead and rust. The polluted water was identified as the probable cause of more than 10 - possibly nearer 100 - deaths from Legionnaires’ disease. Repairs to Flint’s water supplies are estimated at around $1.5bn.

Macleod also features in the Piper Alpha and Flint Water episodes giving her technical accounts. With more than 35 years in the international chemical industry she is well equipped with the expertise and practical experience in effectively managing high hazard chemical sites.

In the series, Gyenes explains the importance of managing the risks of natural disasters that can lead to technological accidents, which was the case when a 9.1 magnitude earthquake and tsunami saw the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant fail.

She has extensive experience in disaster management with roles including Head of Section for Nuclear Safety at the National Directorate General for Disaster Management in Budapest, and Scientific Technical Officer for the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Italy. Gyenes uses this expertise at the ISC working with industry and academia sharing knowledge, developing guidance materials and communicating good practice to improve process safety worldwide.

In another episode, Hackitt comments on the findings of the independent review she led into the regulation of high-rise buildings following the Grenfell Tower fire in London, UK in 2017. She explains how systems thinking needs to drive effective regulation and requirement of safe practices when considering complex and high-risk buildings.

Maitland shares expert engineering knowledge of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, which spilled around 10.8m US gallons of crude oil off the coast of Tatitlek, Alaska due to insufficient maintenance and actions by crew with fatigue and excessive workloads. With more than 40 years’ experience in energy engineering, he has been called upon for his technical expertise by regulators, government and the media. This includes chairing the independent review of the UK Offshore Oil and Gas Regulatory Regime (‘The Maitland Report’) in 2011 following the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Disasters Engineered examines a variety of chemical, structural, and mechanical engineering incidents. Each episode looks at the causes of two incidents, why and how they happened, how they affected people, and what changes and decisions have been made in the industry as a result.

Those with access to the National Geographic channel via a TV subscriptions service provider (such as Sky, Virgin Media and Now TV) can watch all the episodes now via the provider and its online services.


(L-R) Fiona Macleod, Judith Hackitt, Stephen Richardson, Ken Patterson, Zsuzsanna Gyenes and Geoffrey Maitland


Disasters Engineered
Zsuzsanna Gyenes
Judith Hackitt
Fiona Macleod
Geoffrey Maitland
Ken Patterson
Stephen Richardson


For more information please contact:

Rachael Fraser, Communications Executive, IChemE
t: +44 (0) 1788 534435

Claire Shepherd, Communications Executive, IChemE
t: +44 (0) 1788 534457

What is chemical engineering?

Chemical, biochemical and process engineering is the application of science, maths and economics in the process of turning raw materials into everyday, and more specialist, products. Professional chemical engineers design, construct and manage process operations all over the world. Oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, food and drink, synthetic fibres and clean drinking water are just some of the products where chemical engineering plays a central role.


The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) advances chemical engineering's contribution worldwide for the benefit of society. We support the development of chemical engineering professionals and provide connections to a powerful network of over 33,000 members in more than 100 countries.

We support our members in applying their expertise and experience to make an influential contribution to solving major global challenges, and are the only organisation permitted to award Chartered Chemical Engineer status and Professional Process Safety Engineer registration.