Despite the efforts of process safety professionals to improve safety standards and guidelines, process safety incidents continue to occur. Several factors contribute to these incidents, highlighting the need for (even) greater awareness and corrective action. In this pro6blog, I have compiled a personal top ten, based on my own experience, and tried to identify the reasons behind the ongoing process safety/process safety incidents.

My personal top 10

1) Predetermined mindset

Prof. Dr. Ir. Genserik Reniers, Professor of Safety of Hazardous Materials at TU Delft has studied that when making decisions about investments for the purpose of preventing incidents there is a predetermined preference in our mindset:

  1. People are more likely to invest in production ("certain profits") than to invest in prevention ("uncertain profits")
  2. People are more inclined to risk highly uncertain accidents ("uncertain losses") than to make large investments ("certain losses") in measures to prevent such accidents

The result for choices does not make sense: we do not gamble with gains, while we gamble with losses. Investments in security measures often compete with projects to improve productivity, leaving security initiatives behind.

2) Finding a needle in a haystack

Petrochemical plants are typically huge and complex, making it virtually impossible to thoroughly inspect all equipment, piping, valves, flanges, etc. Even with comprehensive inspection programs, critical problems can be overlooked (they are also often hidden, for example under insulation), emphasizing the need to anticipate the unexpected.

3) Misleading information

Instruments sometimes provide misleading information, especially during startup or shutdown of a section or the entire plant when design compositions have not yet been reached. This can lead to dangerous situations, such as misjudging the level in a vessel or inaccurate pressure measurements.

4) (Re)alignment of standards without proper management of change (MOC)

Changes in safety standards without adequate documentation or communication can create confusion. Over time, the origin and reasoning behind modifications can be forgotten, compromising safety measures. This true incident (with fictitious names) shows that there was a clear reason to make a modification to a standard to close drains. But years later, who knows why this was done? Especially if it is not an industry standard and then also nogeens more expensive than what people are used to, chances are that it will be modified back again.

5) Role of private equity in chemical company acquisitions

The involvement of venture capital or private equity in chemical industry acquisitions and mergers can put short-term financial gain ahead of safety . The correlation between incidents and cost savings is often not assessed. And this is also difficult, because short-term cost reductions need not lead directly to incidents or are "hidden." For example, how and when do you notice that for a panel operator, instead of a secondary technical education, people will also settle for a lower education (or no technical education)?

6) Normalization of deviations

Some people accept abnormal business practices as normal, either because of a lack of understanding, or out of a belief that rules and procedures hinder smooth operation. This behavior can perpetuate unsafe practices.

7) Overrated risk reduction factors in HAZOP studies

Certain safety devices, such as internal pump safety valves or check valves, are often overestimated in terms of risk reduction. Actual conditions and maintenance requirements may not match their assumed effectiveness. Optimistic assumptions about the probability of occurrence in LOPA studies also contribute to this.

8) Incorrect specifications

Many errors in safety instrumented functions (and probably in all complex process designs) occur during the definition/design phase. Inaccurate or incomplete specifications can reduce the effectiveness of safety measures. For a more detailed explanation, see this blog.

9) Watermelon effect

Some industries, such as air traffic control and nuclear power plants, admit that they may not fully understand the complex systems they work with. They become concerned if there are (too) few incidents. The process industry should adopt a similar mindset and not become complacent when safety audits show only positive results. Digging deeper into what appears to be good performance often reveals underlying risks. Speaking of digging deeper, you can read more about this in this blog.

10) safety ≠ safety

I believe there is still a persistent misconception that all forms of safety are equal. Process safety, not to be confused with occupational safety, requires specific attention and focus.

As you all know, huge efforts have been made to improve safety and integrity in recent years, particularly with the roll-out of the operating management system. Before this tragic incident, our safety record was improving, with the key metrics such as recordable injury frequency (RIF), days away from work case frequency (DAFWC) and on-site fatalities all on a downward trend.

Email from BP's Employee Communications, to BP Employees, Subject: Gulf of Mexico update from Tony Hayward, CEO ttv BP Deep Water Horizon incident, July 9, 2010

No all-encompassing solution, but commit to multiple issues

To improve process safety and reduce incidents, it is crucial to address these root causes. Creating a safety-conscious mindset, emphasizing comprehensive inspections, accurate information, effective management of change and ensuring accurate risk assessments are essential steps. In addition, it is important to remain critical of safety audits and understand the unique nature of process safety to reduce the number of process safety incidents.

Do you have an opinion on this? If so, give the editors a tip and we can write a blog about it or respond to it and we can all learn something from it.