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Hazardex 2017 Conference & Exhibition - Another great success

16 March 2017

The Hazardex 2017 Conference & Exhibition for hazardous area and process safety specialists, which took place on March 2 & 3 in Runcorn, Cheshire, was judged a great success by attendees and saw an increase in visitors on the previous edition, itself up significantly on the previous year.

The Conference & Exhibition aims to strengthen and expand the community that looks to the Hazardex website and journal for industry intelligence and information, and the 2017 event seems to have achieved this across the board. Attendance was up almost 10% on 2016, itself up by a third on the previous edition in 2014.

Compared with the last event in 2016, the conference programme was longer and delegate numbers were also well up. For more information on the conference, see the ‘Thoughts from the Chair’ section below.

Although the main focus of the packed-two day event is the conference, the attached exhibition is also an important element, and the 2017 event saw 44 hazardous area sector companies display their products and services to the assembled professional audience, up by a quarter on 2016.

Exhibitors ran the gamut from process control electronics and software to consultancy, certification and training, with a number providing niche technical solutions to the hazardous area industry. See the full list on the opposite page.

A large majority of exhibitors expressed satisfaction with the quality of contacts they had made, to the extent that a large majority indicated they intended to rebook stands in 2018.

The event offered exceptional opportunities for networking, with attendees from government agencies, regulators and certification bodies meeting up with senior engineers and safety managers from the high hazard and process industries to share their experiences.

These opportunities came to a climax at the drinks reception and Gala Dinner at the end of the first day, with after-dinner entertainment provided by the well-received stand-up Jamie Sutherland.

The 2017 event also saw a revival of the Hazardex Awards, designed to recognise excellence in the hazardous area sector. A full list of winners and runners-up is provided on page 22.

The organisers are looking into holding further Hazardex regional events later in 2016, with announcements on likely formats and venues available in the next few months on www.hazardexonthenet.net.

Dates have also been announced for the next international Hazardex Conference & Exhibition, which will take place at the same venue, the Holiday Inn Hotel in Runcorn, Cheshire, on 28 February and 1 March, 2018.

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Thoughts from the chair 
Lee Alford - Conference chairman

On the drive to Hazardex 2017 I notice a couple of gorillas standing in a front garden no more than a stone’s throw from the venue.  A pair of inanimate life sized models to be exact. The bizarre sighting reminds me of that video where a gorilla wanders into centre shot amongst a group of basketball players.  Most viewers fail to make the obvious spot because they have been instructed to count the number of ball passes and in effect the gorilla is hidden in plain sight. Bemused I arrive at the venue a few minutes later, start chatting with friends and get on with the job in hand.

For the second year I was delighted to be chairing Hazardex 2017 on the topic of essential intelligence for changing times.  And what changing times! Since the last conference we have experienced a whirlwind of unforgettable and barely foreseeable happenings such as BREXIT, Trump and Leicester City. Some will have long- lasting and irreversible impacts.

 As a result of what I heard in the first conference session on standards and regulations it is clear that post-BREXIT there will be minimal impact to the UK’s role in international standards at ISO and IEC level.  Furthermore the expectation is that post-BREXIT UK experts will continue to play an undiminished role in the governance and technical work of European standards bodies such as CEC and CENELEC.

Quite possibly the presentation which provoked the most questions from the Hazardex audience was that on application of Energy Institute guidance and the potential for generation of flammable mists during release of high flash point materials.  In this case kerosene stored at airport fuel storage sites. The speaker explained that as a result of a recent study that blanket zoning across such sites has been rolled back by taking a more conservative approach to flammable mist generation.  It is certainly a fascinating development to observe conservative approaches be applied to formation of hazards rather than their control measures. 

Nevertheless as new evidence is unearthed, new opportunities to do just this will undoubtedly emerge across the hazardous environments sector.

One memorable piece of advice to crop up on day two was that it is preferable to design with people rather than design for people. Typically it is engineers who design the plant and process but it is the operators who make the day to day decisions which impact safety.  For example, in a ship to shore oil transfer, a serious spill can result from use of a defective hose.  However, opinion on what constitutes a defective hose can differ between those same engineers who conceivably possess only modest experience in the field and the operators who need to make that judgement call.  Unless opportunities exist for both groups to jointly clarify then this uncertainty is likely to remain dormant until it reveals itself, possibly with devastating results. 

There is no doubt that decision-making in safety-critical activities is better based on objective criteria rather than left to common sense by default.  So again, for a ship to shore oil transfer the assessment of hose quality can be made with reference to photos or graphics illustrating various aspects of defective and defect free hoses.  Nevertheless, as one speaker observed there are organisations in the major hazards sector which believe they are almost always safe and then invite experts to confirm this. However, when they learn, for example, that they are almost always failing to follow their own safety critical procedures then disbelief and denial can set in. 

One speaker pointed out that the process industry has much to learn from the manufacturing sector with respect to standard operating procedures (SOPs).  It may well be that the process industry considers itself a sector of such complex technology that the major risks arising from its seemingly more basic operations are under-appreciated. That said, SOPs not only result in safer practices but also improved productivity through reduction of variation across individual operators and shift teams.

Yet another conference theme to emerge was the currently fashionable topic of cognitive biases which one presenter explored through accident investigation.  Confirmation bias, for example, is a tendency for an investigator to seek evidence which supports and fits with their mental model of accident causation.  This can result in evidence to the contrary being dismissed or relegated in importance and in contrast to that which reinforces the original notion.  Another important bias is known as fundamental attribution bias which can lead investigators to attribute the behaviour of those involved in the lead up to an accident to perceived character flaws rather than pertinent external factors.  It is certainly true that investigators need both the understanding and time to arrive at a balanced and considered view of what led to an accident.

Hazardex 2017 also saw a sharing on the development and application of technical standards across various industries, including whisky distilleries and fuel storage sites.  Away from technical areas, standardisation was also a theme for presentations on development of procedures and national training standards for process safety.  Perhaps one area that continues to defy the march of standardisation is that of safety culture and human factors, which one speaker pointed out enjoys multiple meanings.  Hazardex 2017 also saw the stakes being raised on cyber-security with the imminent publication of HSE operational guidance on the topic. Several incidents have been linked to malicious cyber-attacks and no doubt industry will need to place this topic right to the top of its risk register in future years.  Few organisations claim that they are entirely invulnerable in this area.

It was satisfying to see Hazardex 2017 provide an opportunity for over 400 professionals to gather together and discuss the opportunities and challenges which are currently relevant to the industry.

I look forward to Hazardex 2018, when I shall be again on the lookout for the Runcorn gorillas.

Hazardex Conference Chairman Lee Alford was Operations Manager at the European Process Safety Centre for six years until December 2016. In a varied career he has worked as an Operations Manager at Vivendi, Quality Manager at Diageo, Plant Superintendent at RTZ Chemicals and was trained and started his career as a chemical engineer.

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2017 Exhibitors:
ABB Consulting, Anamet Europe, Banelec, Barrier Ex, Beamex, Beka, BSI, C&P, CCG UK, CMP Products, Cogent Skills, Cordex, Crowcon, CSA Group, Dekra Insight, Draeger, Exheat, Exloc, Extronics, FES Ex, Glamox, Hornbill Engineering, IHS Research, Industrial Interface, Inspec Systems, Lewden Palazolli, Mobexx, Moore Industries, Mutech, Nightsearcher, PEI Genesis, R&M Electrical, R. STAHL, Randall & Daniels, RAS, Rheintacho, Roxby Training, Rugged Mobile Systems, SGS Baseefa, STS Bespoke Handling, Tempa Pano, Vega Controls, WEG, Xplore Technologies


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