The Value of Inherent Safety?

Last week, Emerson’s Mike Boudreaux and several Emerson CFSE safety experts, attended the 8th International PES Symposium hosted by TÜV Rheinland at their office in Cologne, Germany. From Mike’s internal blog, here’s his on-the-scene review of Control editor and Sound Off! blog’s Walt Boyes’ presentation:

Walt Boyes kicked off the symposium with the keynote presentation titled Why is Safety so HARD? Amazingly, he presented the first several slides of his presentation by speaking in German! This was very impressive. He covered a lot of ground in his presentation. The main points were:

  • Plants need to be built and operated inherently safe.
  • It’s not just about the SIS. Inherent safety includes good alarm management, security, operations, training, and company goals.
  • The SIS must be part of an overall proactive security strategy.
  • Operator HMI design and training needs to be improved. Operator response is dependent on how information is presented.
  • Like safety, alarm management must be a lifecycle process instead of just a project task.
  • Company management needs a way to consider incident avoidance in the financial metrics.

Walt’s key point was that process safety needs to be raised to the business level. Company CFOs have no way to calculate the cost avoidance of events that don’t happen. It’s only after an incident that the costs are seen. Because of the way that financial reporting is done, there is no way to account for the value of operating inherently safe. It is impossible to show lives not lost or equipment not damaged in a company’s financial reports. The industry needs a way to measure what we do. If you can’t measure it in financial terms, it never happened. Safety needs to be considered as part of the economic calculus, which includes environmental stewardship and company sustainability.

Walt used the example of the BP Texas City explosion to illustrate his point about taking an integrated approach to SIS, alarm management, operations, training, and company goals:

No one expected the operators to have difficulty seeing both the inlet and the outlet flows to the isomerization process and the raffinate splitter tower at BP Texas City. No one expected ALL the level measurement devices on the tower to fail at the same time. No one expected the safety system to fail. No one expected that the operators would consistently make wrong decision after wrong decision as they tried to recover from the impending disaster. No one expected the diesel pickup truck to be running in the same area as the cloud of hydrocarbon vapor.

Yet all of these things happened. And people died. There have been many more accidents in the three years since the BP disaster, and there will be many more. And many more people will die.

We need to start thinking about safety, security, alarm management, operations and training as an integrated whole, and we need to have our companies agree that the safe way is the most profitable way. We have not done this yet, and until we do, people will continue to die.

Walt’s presentation was exceptionally relevant, with two fatal chemical plant explosions in the previous week (20 workers killed in Southern China and one worker killed in West Virginia). The need for improved process safety is driving increased demand for safety instrumented systems. According to a recent ARC Advisory Group process safety system study, “The worldwide market, which is around USD1.4 billion in 2007, is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 12% per year to over USD2.5 billion in 2012.”

Posted Tuesday, September 9th, 2008 under Safety.

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