“”It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight, Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watchin’ us all with the eye of the tiger””

Process Safety: Keep the Tiger in the Cage!

by Krishni Arumugam & Enrico Lammers

Keep the tiger in the cage

When the music band Survivor composed this Rock Classic way back in ‘82, it might be easy to assume they worked in a Process Chemical Plant. After all, the rules of the jungle favour the more cunning and the last known survivor is almost always the one preying the game (pun intended) of stealth and attack on the unsuspecting jungle tourists. In a process plant this may be related to our ever ready “Tiger” to exit its cage (err Tank) with a terrible wake at it’s path.

As Safety engineers we are often at loggerheads with our Occupational Safety counterparts as to where the Tamers (Management) of this great circus should focus their valuable business energy and resources. See our e-book (in Dutch): 5 vragen die je jezelf moet stellen over process safety

Over the years we have gotten better at risk analysis, but we seem no closer to reducing the impact (severity) and probability of Process Safety Incidents in the world. I.e. the type of incidents that cause harm to People, Plant en Environment. The one’s that take lives and ultimately put us out of business. Incidents, that,  in hindsight may have preventable or their consequences minimised. So have we underestimated our predators?

Lions and Tigers

In the constant tussle for superiority in the jungle, the old adage may imply that the Lion is King of the Jungle. Is it a predator? YES. Can I see HIM/HER coming? ALMOST ALWAYS.  But the beast known as Process Safety is a little more cunning than a lion.   

Let’s do a bit of a Jungle Behaviour Analysis :

Occupational Safety vs Process Safety

The Lion – Occupational Safety

  • Hunts in groups
  • Is often visible (audible etc )- you can run!
  • Is a killer
  • Can never be fully tamed
  • Can never be left unguarded
  • Needs constant vigilance

The Tiger – Process Safety

  • Hunts alone
  • Is secretive and hard to detect (well camouflaged)
  • Can see six times better than human beings
  • Is a killer
  • Can never be fully tamed
  • Can never be left unguarded
  • Needs constant vigilance

Process Safety places an Emphasis on Preventing Low Probability but High Severity Incidents

How do you track something you cannot see easily?

Over the years high severity incidents like Macondo, BP Texas, Buncefield, have resulted in public and political outrage, resulting in worldwide media coverage. Society is no longer tolerant of HSE incidents.

So, do we have the tools at our disposal to not just recognise the tiger but also to tame it?

In 2019 a number of process safety incidents across the world in Refineries left us shaken. Where to from here?

The key is a combination of predictive plant monitoring or process health along with the 3 pillars of Process Safety:

1) Design It Right (Ring fencing the tiger)
2) Operate it Right  (controlling the tiger)
3) Maintain it Right (keeping the tiger in check)

The missing and often unspoken foundation is that process safety management (PSM) must be part of the beating heart of any organisation.

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 analytical capabilities. Are indicators enough? We often focus on the lagging indicators as per governance. We are simply great investigators of incidents and may proudly state that THIS TOO COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED with our many Root Cause Assessment Techniques. It’s useful, I have no doubt.

But how can we predict where our next tiger might be lurking. What are the Leading Indicators of good process health in a typical factory? Are they customised for your specific needs – After all, one man’s Tiger might be another man’s Bear. And how good have you been at Operationalising these tools to make them go beyond the computing and paper to the operators at the heart of the Process Jungle?

Process Safety is a lot smarter than us Safety Engineers

It would be good to remember that the enemies of safety are complacency, arrogance and ignorance (see also one of our earlier blogs (in Dutch): Het watermeloen effect). While the Plant is continuously evolving with unit and equipment upgrades, and the pressure to make a financially successful business, so too is the tiger in your business evolving and growing. It is getting smarter than you, finding new ways to exit tanks, flanges, and reveal the weaknesses in the original design versus the demand that time makes on any Process Plant. One only needs to study our global Process Safety Incidents over the past few years to respectfully see this

To be successful with Process Safety beyond just Compliance to the Regulator you must be both passionate about it and make it part of your business model!  

And remember: don’t turn your back on the Tiger…