#Hazards30 – 60 years of process safety learning and lessons

It has been 60 years since our inaugural Hazards conference took place, and although this year presented its own challenges, we were pleased to have successfully hosted #Hazards30 in a virtual format for the very first time. With an impressive line-up of plenary speakers and presentations, over 260 process safety professionals were still able to get the full experience of Hazards from the comfort of their home.

#Hazards30 delivered 78 presentations across two days and the event commenced with Steve Rae, Executive Director, Step Change in Safety, UK, who presented the highly anticipated Trevor Kletz Memorial Lecture this year, entitled, Piper Alpha – an Accident or a Predictable Surprise?

Safety culture

As one of 61 survivors from the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988, Rae shared his experiences of the incident which resulted in 167 deaths.

Piper Alpha, an oil platform located in the North Sea approximately 120 miles north-east of Aberdeen, Scotland. In his presentation, Rae stated the platform was built to produce 250,000 barrels per day, but that actually they were producing 320,000 barrels per day and that operations differed across its sister platforms. This is when he quickly came to realise there were no common approaches to safety.

Giving a brief history of his career, Rae started out working on the oil and gas platforms where he quickly came to recognise there was no common approach to safety across the platforms.

The tragic events of that day have been life-changing for Rae and he shared how this has affected him:

“I look back on my time on Piper Alpha knowing on a number of occasions I consciously chose to look the other way. That night I became known as one of the survivors. For years to come the survivor badge and the stigma attached to it became an unwanted burden initially.”

There were three key messages within his lecture that Rae wanted to convey about safety culture:

• The key factors that should be frequently assessed in an organisation because these factors can directly influence the presence and strength of your safety culture.
• By telling his story he hoped it will compel process safety professionals to ask questions of their own commitment to safety.
• Wherever a process safety professional fits in an organisation, they can influence safety.

“I’ve become a more resilient individual from this defining moment. It’s made me better equipped to deal with the stresses that we all encounter in our personal and business lives.”

Since the incident, Rae has devoted much of his life to drawing and sharing lessons from disasters and accidents. To do this he created the Six C’s model which is a checklist on developing and sustaining robust safety – the presence or lack of any of these will impact safety culture in a company.

• Commitment
• Change management
• Control of work
• Competency
• Complacency
• Communication

“I genuinely believe what happened on 6 July could have been avoided had signals been interpreted differently and acted upon.”

Rae concluded his lecture by leaving delegates with one final thought:

“You should never feel that you can’t make a difference. It’s a personal choice to act or turn the other way.”

The IChemE published a special issue of the Loss Prevention Bulletin (LPB) to mark the 30th anniversary of Piper Alpha, which you can read here.

Continuing the topic of safety culture, Margaret Donnan, Chair, Advisory Board, IChemE Safety Centre, Australia, gave a plenary talk titled Reflections on the Lessons from Longford and its Legacy.

Donnan explored the lessons learned from the Longford gas plant explosion and fire in Victoria, Australia on 25 September 1998. Two people lost their lives in this tragic incident and eight other workers were severely injured.

The explosion occurred when hot lean oil was used in a 14m long heat exchanger to warm the cold rich oil. The hot lean oil pumps had tripped which ceased the flow of lean oil to the heat exchanger. The lack of warming caused the temperature to drop to -48°C, when the normal operating temperature would have been 100°C. After several hours, hot lean oil was reintroducing and resulted in the heat exchanger to rapture.

The extent of the damage left no gas supply to both domestic and industrial users in the local area for three weeks, and was deemed a huge inconvenience, almost eclipsing the seriousness of the incident itself.

Donnan highlighted how the Longford gas explosion was an incident waiting to happen.

Following the investigation, the Longford Royal Commission published a report stating that the training of both operators and supervisors was inadequate as they failed to identify the cold brittle facture in the exchanger.

“It’s critical to learn from a disaster like Longford. Those lessons result in positive impact across the industry.”

Donnan also touched upon the ongoing critical role of leaders and champions for process safety – whether at company level, industry association, union level, in government, in professional associations or in academia.

“Each anniversary provides us with important opportunities for reflections. It’s easy to look back at the Longford Royal Commission report and say that was so many years ago, we’ve made huge strides in process safety since then, it just couldn’t happen now. But are we really sure?

“It is imperative that we don’t become complacent. We must ask ourselves, ‘Could this be repeated at my workplace?’ We must all become leaders and champions for process safety.”

The IChemE Loss Prevention Bulletin, published the Longford 20th anniversary report. Also, check out IChemE Safety Centre, Director, Trish Kerin’s interview with Andrew Hopkin, an expert witness at the investigation into the disaster to read more about the lessons learned.

Climate change

Climate change was another big discussion point this year. Jo Nettleton, Deputy Director, Radioactive Substances and Installations Regulation, Environment Agency, UK gave a plenary session on the challenges posed to existing major hazards industries from extreme weather events and the impact of adapting to a net zero economy.

With the need to tackle climate change more critical than ever, Nettleton explained the Environment Agency’s role, which is to protect the environment and people in the UK while allowing existing and enabling new operations.

Nettleton’s team works with high hazards industries to regulate their operations and to set standards for new developments that will help tackle climate change, learning the lessons from past incidents.

The Environment Agency has implemented a long-term strategy to tackle the climate emergency by 2025, focusing on three main areas:

• A nation resilient to climate change;
• Healthy air, land, and water; and
• Green growth and a sustainable future.

“On the goal of becoming a climate resilient nation, tackling the climate emergency is key. It’s not possible to mitigate and remove the threats but become more efficient to help reduce the risk of the initiator.”

Her key messages to enable sustainable operations and to help reduce the impacts of hazardous operations on the climate, were:

• Good leadership and guidance.
• Good collaboration among colleagues, peers, industry, across sectors and across disciplines.
• Develop competency in hazards identification.
• Everyone should play their role in process safety.

“The climate crisis is the business of businesses and needs to become a default part of our business.”

Nettleton also talked about the importance of good regulation, which is focused on outcomes.

Drawing upon some examples of the consequences of bad or no regulation, Nettleton referenced the Bhopal disaster, Buncefield storage explosion, Fukushima and Chernobyl, which all have had a devastating impact.

“I’m passionate that good regulation is key to climate change management.”

But what are the must haves to meet the climate emergency? She explained that it’s important to have excellent leadership and a high level of collaboration and added:

“We need collaboration, to teach, engage across communities, and to raise standards.”

Concerns around climate change were highlighted in other sessions during the two-day event. Hannes Kern from Industrial Risk and Safety Solutions (IRIS) in Austria presented Wildfires – An Emergency Hazard for Industrial Installations in Europe, examining the recent wildfires sin 2018 and 2019. He noted that with more natural hazards occurring, unfortunately this has led to an increase in technological disasters. Not only that, when wildfires intersect with communities or industrial areas, specific hazards arise, for example:

• thermal radiation;
• flame impingement; and
• flying embers.

All these can lead to loss of containment events followed by toxic spills, fires, or explosions.

Another interesting session was on the Assessment and Enactment of Response to Severe Weather Hazards to Offshore Structures, presented by Joe Quinn, Principal Safety Engineer, Atkins, UK and Matt Keys, Global Technical Director – Offshore Structures, Atkins, Australia, who looked at the design of offshore structures in line with extreme weather events. With the ability to more accurately predict major storms, it is much easier to determine location specific risks and therefore enable a timely response to reduce the risk to personnel onboard the facilities.

Managing process safety during COVID-19

Of course, this year COVID-19 has had a huge impact on how process safety is managed. Maintaining the high level of standards during a pandemic hasn’t been an easy task, but with a pragmatic approach the industry has been able to safely adapt to the new way of working.

Trish Kerin led a session called Guidance on Managing Process Safety During the Pandemic, exploring how companies have had to change the way they operate in a virtual world, ensuring good regulation is still upheld and acknowledging the importance of supporting staff professionally and personally through such strange times.

Kerin joined Jonathan Carter, Samantha Scruggs and Dr Stewart Behie for a panel discussion on COVID-19 and Its Impact on Process Safety Management. They spoke about how COVID-19 has affected process safety in industry and academia. Read about their thoughts in this blog.

Mental health

Mental health has been an important talking point this year, and rightly so. IChemE member, Matt Longley, gave a presentation on Protecting the Mental Health of Employees: How Issues from Film & TV Industry Survey Correlate with Similar Factors in Other Industries. He spoke about how work in the film industry is high-pressured and the crew are almost exclusively freelance. They have little corporate support in terms of HR, appraisals, health and safety, and training processes. After losing a colleague to suicide, Longley co-founded a non-profit organisation called 6ft From The Spotlight which aimed to prevent further loss of life through training and awareness of mental health issues.

His presentation highlighted findings of the Through the Looking Glass survey and illustrated correlations that other industry sectors can seek to learn from in order to identify the early signs of mental health issues.

Human factors

Human factors was another topic that was covered. James Bunn, gave a presentation on Making sure investigators get it right – human factors considerations for investigators. In this session he urged for human factors to be considered for investigators to ensure support for them and accuracy of investigations, so to avoid biases and influential factors.  

This was based on findings from interviewing investogators, who revealed peak stress points during the phases of on-site analysis, formulating recommendations and finalising the report, meanwhile energy levels decreased from start to the finish.

“Investigators may have a strong emotional reaction to investigations. We can’t assume investigators are immune from this. We need robust debriefing structures in place to support them.” 

Thank you

#Hazards30 wouldn’t have happened without the support of everyone who attended this year. We hope you had a great time and don’t forget you can still catch-up on all the webinars online until 4 January 2021.

We would also like to say a special thank you to our 12 sponsors who were exhibiting at #Hazards30 – WSP UK, BakerRisk, ESR Technology, GexCon UK, Beamex, SALUS Controls, HCB Live, IChemE Safety Centre, Flame Detection, Reflekt, Human Reliability Ltd and RPS Group. Delegates were able to visit and see presentations and interact with each stand.

We will be back next year with #Hazards31 and we hope you can join us again. Details about the event will be released in early 2021, so stay tuned!