Minor incidents flag process safety

Process safety managers agree that minor incidents offer opportunities to measure and manage health and safety, and prevent major disasters.

A Responsible Care Process Safety workshop in Johannesburg and Durban in March 2010, discussd methods in the discipline is variously named technical safety, loss prevention, or chemical process safety. The main aim is to prevent fires, explosions and unplanned chemicals releases that could impact occupational or public health and safety impacts, or result in catastrophe or disaster.

Industrial history worldwide between 1911 and 1995, records 525 major hazardous chemicals incidents. Despite adopting modern technology and methods to manage process safety, some areas still require improvement, as the number and size of process operations increase worldwide.

BP Texas City refinery explosion in 2005 caused 15 deaths and 170 injuries. Buncefield fire and explosion in England in 2005 caused losses counted in the billions. Countless minor incidents occur all the time, each with the potential to cause disasters, depending on multiple manageable factors.

Manage minor changes

Process safety consultant Nigel Coni warned that loss incidents add to the chemical and petrochemical industry’s poor public image. Plants should manage change, including engineering, plant, materials, process, staff and training change, to assess the individual and joint impacts of major and minor changes, he advised delegates.

“In my experience, only a few companies practice change management,” Coni warned.

Relevant South African legislation includes the OHS Act and the Major Hazard Installation Regulations. Thirty-two notifiable hazardous substances are listed in the General Machinery Regulations. While legislation does not require a process safety management plan, chemicals companies must identify control measures.

Responsible Care had developed a Process Safety Management Standard with performance indicators as a guide to industry. CAIA also hosts a quarterly Process Safety Forum to inform members on process safety trends, issues, resources and skills development.

The forum has proved to be of particular benefit to smaller companies, in learning from colleagues handling larger resources.

Most process safety managers use chemical compatibility charts and teach workers how to consult automated compatibility tools, to prevent unplanned reactions between materials, compounds and solutions.

Process industries have made significant efforts and gains in managing these risks, however risk remains inherent in various materials, processes, containment, conditions, changes, skills and procedures involved.

Some serious loss incidents continue to occur due to poor design, unsafe operating conditions, errors in judgment, or errors in communication.

Management system

Process Safety Management (PSM) is the application of management systems and controls, including engineering, programmes, procedures, audits, evaluations, and improvements to manufacturing processes, in such a way that process hazards are identified, understood, and managed, so that process related injuries and incidents are prevented.

Sustainable safety performance requires, in addition to SHEQ management systems, a robust PSM system driven by operational discipline. Process safety management begins at the design phase and remains a constant critical aspect of operating and maintenance procedures.

PSM also has general industrial benefits, since incidents or quality lapses at indirectly related operations, could cause incidents at other operations. Process incidents are potentially large disasters, and negatively affect public perception of the entire chemicals industry.

Manage minor incidents

Operators should thoroughly investigate every incident that results in, or could have resulted in, a major loss incident. By implication, operators should implement process safety metrics to monitor and report process safety performance, and to measure potential consequences of potential incidents.

“There is much to be gained in measuring potential effects of near miss incidents,” said one of the presenters, Francois Holtzhausen, who is Process Safety Advisor at Sasol SHE Centre.

Mere chance dictates the number of factors that align to cause minor or major incidents. Management systems should involve all employees in using minor incidents to reduce the factors that could increase the scale of loss incidents.

Safe behaviour at workplace is an important element of preventing incidents and managing process safety performance improvement. Colleagues should make a habit of sharing good practice and information on useful process safety tools.
PHOTO; Process Safety Forum chairperson, Dr Berhard Eigenhuis.

One thought on “Minor incidents flag process safety

  1. In your report on the Internet you mentioned that a Responsible Care Process Safety workshop was held in Johannesburg and Durban in March 2010. There you discussed methods to prevent fires, explosions and unplanned chemicals releases. Is it possible to have a copy of the outcomes of your discussions?

    Kind regards

    Frans Prinsloo

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