Machine and Process Management

Process safety management: eliminating plant safety uncertainty

If you’re working in the industrial world, you know that process safety is always a high priority, with occupational safety helping protect personnel, and functional safety helping avoid large-scale disasters. International safety standards are widely adopted as best practices and support these efforts by providing a framework for the design and implementation of automated safeguards and safety instrumented systems (SIS).

But regardless of how well-designed these safeguards are, they can only be fully effective if operated and maintained per their design criteria over the entire operational life of the plant.

In recognition of this fact, a newer discipline of process safety management (PSM) is beginning to emerge. And companies using such programs are realizing significant benefits, with up to 5% increases in productivity and reduced costs for production, maintenance, capital budgets, and insurance.

PSM prevents process-related injuries and incidents though the application of management systems that evaluate the entire process to identify and control hazards. It seeks to ensure that functional safety safeguards and equipment are available and operating at peak performance

PSM has evolved as a discipline to address the lack of visibility into the operations and maintenance of functional safety equipment, and eliminate the associated uncertainty about the safety of the plant. Despite the maturity of the occupational safety industry, its measures are only lagging indicators of danger, unable to predict future safety.

The passing of time, lack of visibility to degrading systems and safeguards, and human complacency combine to deepen safety gaps. Safeguards are typically operational for 20 or 30 years, while asset life is now closer to 40. During that time, gaps start to appear in those safeguards and the real-world integrity of the system begins to vary from the original design, to the point at which the safeguards lose effectiveness.

It is not just the passing of time that causes safety integrity gaps; it is the inability to visualize and see where the risks are and from where the next incident may originate. As time passes without a visible incident, people may become complacent and drop their guard.

There is also the potential safety impact of gaps in workforce knowledge, skill, and experience due to staff turnover and retirements. And with a high dependency on contracting staff, contractors could bring habits from other companies, such as accepting a riskier approach as standard.

Emerging industry and regulatory drivers

Today, there is a greater public awareness of safety incidents and the cost of a serious incident to a company has grown exponentially.

In addition, regulatory activity has shifted from passive to predictive and preventive. For example, it is now mandatory to periodically validate safety instrumented function performance against design criteria, and to ensure the required training and competence of personnel working on safety systems. In parallel, associated industry bodies are also calling for the modification and update of regulatory standards. Regulators working with operating companies are mitigating risk by identifying and managing leading indicators.

There is also increasing collaboration among oil and gas, chemical, energy, and other industries that run higher risk processes, to create of a common framework that will shape best practices.

Finally, there is a general maturing of safety standards, safety practices, and safety communities. Members of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers are benchmarking themselves against each other and have recommended practices around Process Safety Key Performance Indicators. These provide guidance on the establishment of leading and lagging indicators to strengthen risk controls (barriers) and prevent major incidents.

These guidelines build upon the API 754 standard, which defines leading and lagging indicators in a four-tier pyramid. The standard calls for continuous monitoring and analysis of threats to the SIS, enabling challenges to the system to be investigated to reveal root causes, and to visualize what might have happened if the SIS didn’t work exactly as defined. With this level of attention, challenges to the system can become leading indicators of future problems, which can be managed through operations and maintenance improvements.

API 754 is one of many safety standards and best practices that has emerged to help manufacturers to improve, benchmark, and maintain regulatory compliant operations. Many of these standards are evolving to include more target-based quantitative measures, which will require greater monitoring and analytic capabilities.

Closing the safety gaps

Improving plant safety requires closing gaps in design, operations, maintenance, and financial integrity. In terms of business integrity, assuring operational integrity requires visible leadership and accountability at all levels of the organization. PSM requires the proactive involvement of the entire safety leadership and can no longer be relegated to the technical domain.

Design integrity focuses on risk identification and assessment, and then implementing the methods to manage and reduce risks to an acceptable level to ensure operational integrity.   Though risk can never be eliminated through design, a variety of methods can balance desired safety outcomes with day-to-day business imperatives and pressures. Application of standards and performance analyses identify risks, suggest ways of reducing the risks to acceptable levels, set safety targets and required safeguards, and roll up a safety requirements specification. At that point, simulation tools and techniques can assist with the design, modeling risks and proving safeguards before implementation, and supporting operator training.

Once safeguards are in place, it is the job of operations and maintenance to use them effectively. Operational and maintenance integrity involves the plant’s people, skills, practices, procedures, the equipment they use to perform their jobs as well as the physical plant equipment they touch.

The challenge for many companies has been how to implement PSM automatically and persistently without expending unsustainable engineering effort and manpower. Though many companies utilize automated data collection, real-time analysis and validation still tend to be done manually. You should therefore be looking for solution that will automatically turn collected data into knowledge, supporting good decision-making and ensuring that both lagging and leading indicators are trustworthy and delivered to those that need them in a timely fashion.

These inputs and many other operating and maintenance systems contribute information to a plant’s risk profile. Dashboards and performance reports that unify this information should be made available to show real-time trade-offs between plant safety and plant profitability.

An important step in closing safety integrity gaps is continuous review and improvement to ensure that performance meets defined targets. The challenge for the automation technology community is to enable companies to meet this higher level of scrutiny without jeopardizing profitability or the safety of the operations themselves.

Metrics for success

Developing process safety metrics is essential for managing and addressing the specific concerns of each functional area of a plant, from equipment to the overall plant and corporate level. Once such information is visible, the next step is to articulate the value at risk, adding a dollar value to the performance. You can then determine an action plan for improving or maintaining safety levels.

By measuring and identifying appropriate KPIs and monitoring procedures, your plant can begin to close gaps in process safety. A successful process safety management program is the sum of the best people, best practices and procedures, and the right technology. All of these collaborate in real time to minimize the gaps between acceptable design and what happens in day-to-day operations and maintenance activities.

To learn more about process safety management, refer to the Schneider Electric white paper ‘Operational Safety Integrity –Closing the Safety Loop’.

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