Process Safety: CEO’s Face the Test

By Ekaterina Pokrovskaya - OGE Dubai Correspondent, November 5, 2014

The number of accidents that have taken place in the petroleum industry around the world over the last few decades emphasize the growing importance of process safety management (PSM) practices.

The price of not making PSM elements part of guidance for your daily plant operations may end up very high, if you consider potential risk to human lives, financial damage to the company, environmental costs, possible negative impact on a company’s reputation and a potential plunge in the value of its shares in the stock market.

One example illustrating how damaging these accidents can be is the explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery in March 2005 that killed 15 people, injured 180, and resulted in billions of dollars in financial losses for the company.

Last year, a series of fires devastated the largest U.S. oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, just a year after Shell and Saudi Aramco conducted a ceremony in May 2012 to mark the expansion of the co-owned plant to a 600,000 barrels per day capacity.

Similar examples abound, and in order to reduce and prevent accidents it’s highly critical to address the issue of process safety management practices.

According to the Process Safety Management Survey 2014 conducted by DecomWorld, 34 percent of polled petroleum industry employees confirmed that over the past two years they have felt the pressure from the management to finish their jobs quickly even if the safety was compromised.

According to Dr. Owen Chappell, technical director at Cresent, the company that specializes in process safety consulting, many incidents come from a lack of proper and timely hazard identification. “I spent my whole life, and last 10 years in BP, going around sites, I visited many operators, and what I find out about hazard identification is that people virtually do not understand what a hazard is,” Chappell told OGE.

Chappell has almost 40 years of experience in the oil and gas production operations and HSE management. He has worked with globally known oil and gas operators such as BP, Shell, Exxon, Oryx, and also spent a long time in the North Sea on offshore rigs such as Forties Oilfield Platform (now Apache) and others.

Chappell believes risk assessment and hazard identification are the most important issues for the oil and gas industry to improve.

“In my experience, risk assessment is not given enough priority and too many decisions are being made based on the financials and the need to get the job done rather than basing it whether it is safe or not to do the job carrying it out in abnormal operating conditions,” he said. “I had a situation in a refinery, with some guys who had to work with segment valves. The man who controlled this process was putting the workers in chemical suits to go work on a valve, because they did not know the integrity of that valve.”

Chappell emphasized that instead of continuing the job on the valve, it should have been stopped.

“There is no reason why you