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The 2017 Survey: Process Safety and Risk Management

16 May 2018

The 2017 edition of Petrotechnics’ process safety and risk management (PSM) survey of senior leaders in the fields of process safety, asset integrity, and operational risk management in the hydrocarbon industry produced some interesting and occasionally startling insights into the state of operational risk and safety management. 

Safety culture, the real-world experience of risk, the various factors that affect and drive safety performance, and the role of systems and tools in enabling appropriate levels of safety and risk management were all discussed.

Simon Jones, head of professional services at Petrotechnics shares some of the survey results below.

A key component in operational excellence

The connection between process safety and operational excellence is increasingly recognised. By operational excellence, we mean the pursuit of world-class performance that is delivered by enabling everyone within the organisation to consistently make the most effective operational decisions, taking into account a fully integrated picture of the risk, cost and productivity on operational reality.

Indeed, achieving operational excellence was given as a main driver for improving safety performance for 61 per cent of survey participants. However, 59 per cent believe that process safety is not always fully incorporated within an organisation’s operational excellence strategy.

The top driver for improving safety performance was, not surprisingly, reducing operational and major accident hazard (MAH) risk – with 71 per cent of survey participants giving this as one of their drivers. However, despite the importance placed on reducing MAH risk, 57 per cent of the survey’s respondents said companies do not always have a defined roadmap in place for advancing safety performance.

Although advancing safety performance and risk reduction is almost always a stated goal in company literature and annual reports, evidence from the 2017 survey indicates that companies do not have readily accessible and carefully structured plans in place to achieve that goal. In fact, 61 per cent believe companies do not have well-defined safety performance measures, including leading and lagging safety indicators. What’s more, although reducing MAH risk is considered a major driver for improving safety performance, 77 per cent believe that companies do not always maintain a sense of vulnerability about exposure to MAH risk.
Interestingly, only 31 per cent made a connection between improving safety performance and reducing operational costs.

Building a safety culture

When asked to rate the factors with the greatest impact on PSM, organisational culture came top of the list – cited by 86 per cent of respondents. It was followed by maintenance and internal procedures (76 per cent each). However, 61 per cent also said that developing a safety culture was a challenge to delivering effective PSM – followed by 57 per cent who said leadership support was a challenge.

Digging a little further into the role of leadership and culture, the survey showed that although corporate board members often say that safety is their highest priority, that has not necessarily been well communicated or followed through. Among survey participants, only 36 per cent say that corporate or board priorities are a driver for improving safety performance.

The majority of respondents (65 per cent) also felt that the C-suite has little to no understanding of the health of process safety barriers and their importance. That said, the majority (51 per cent) also felt that the C-suite is responsible for understanding where there is risk, but not for measuring and evaluating its impact – or for managing and mitigating its impact.

Perhaps more telling are the responsibilities attributed to frontline staff and functional heads respectively. The majority believe frontline staff – including shift supervisors, operations supervisors, or maintenance supervisors – are responsible for understanding, measuring, evaluating, managing and mitigating operational risk. The overwhelming majority also believe that maintenance managers have responsibility for almost every aspect of operational risk management – greater than both frontline safety supervisors and senior safety managers.

The role of planners and schedulers is also noteworthy. The majority of respondents again believe these roles  need to understand the risk levels on a given plant or facility and plan/schedule work accordingly. However, with their vast list of equipment to maintain and resources to allocate, they are lacking the insight that this particular three dimensional game of chess needs.

Equally significant is functional leadership and awareness of the health of safety barriers, which in the view of survey participants is much lower than their awareness of operational risk as a whole. Once again, it is frontline operations that shoulder the responsibility.

Together this information suggests that process safety and frontline operations must be better connected, and the relationship between the two better understood. Operators need to ensure that everyone across the business understands and manages risk against the same criteria — and has a practical understanding of how their decisions directly or indirectly influence the risk picture.

Recognising the potential sources of risk, and how they can accumulate, is a key challenge that requires a “common currency” approach to managing the disparate sources of data. In this way they can construct leading indicators that provide actionable insights.

Connecting the enterprise

Under the anonymity of the survey, participants gave voice to comments rarely heard in public. Some of the most telling observations came when participants were asked why incidents and accidents still happen. For example:
“Process safety is specialised knowledge, not typically understood by operations and maintenance, leading to implementation gaps.”
“Production takes priority over safety, which often leads to shortcuts and safety incidents, despite corporate safety policies.”
“Corporate lip service to PSM policies that are not backed up with effective and efficient planned preventative maintenance.”

These are by no means the only reasons given, but they are an indication of a disconnect between process safety and frontline operations and the need for these two functions to be better understood.

They also add evidence to the inherent contradictions between safety culture and safety ambitions previously noted. This is confirmed by 70 per cent of respondents who acknowledge that there are gaps between the intent of process safety planning and what actually happens on the plant or asset.

This gets to the heart of the PSM challenge. There is a well-established body of mature engineering science around process safety that defines how to design and operate plants to keep assets and people secure, to keep process fluids in pipes, and to stop loss of primary containment escalating into a major accident. However despite the specifications arising from this body of knowledge, once the facility is built and operated, the in-built safety barriers start to degrade over time.

This was acknowledged by 70 per cent of respondents, who believe or have observed that there is a measurable change in the level of risk exposure on the plant between planned PSM hazard review periods. As already noted, 61 per cent confirmed that companies do not always have well-defined leading and lagging safety indicators. These two facts represent a challenge for operators – risk levels change between reviews and few indicators leading indicators are in place to try and get a handle on how risk is changing.

On top of this, perhaps out in the open for the first time, is an acknowledgement that only six per cent of respondents believe their companies are fully up-to-date with scheduled safety-critical maintenance.

Better information, better decisions

The survey observed gaps between operational intent and operational reality and between policy and implementation. As one senior leader put it, “Risks are not fully understood.”
For example, 45 per cent said that communicating process safety principles to the frontline was a challenge to delivering effective PSM and 66 per cent believe that operations personnel do not always understand the aspects of their jobs that are most critical in managing process safety risk.

To close these gaps, everyone within an organisation needs to be armed with the right information at the right time and in the right format so they can make better, more informed decisions.

There is no shortage of information: only 11 per cent suggest that lack of data is a challenge for delivering effective PSM. Nor is there a shortage of IT systems: just 11 per cent see shortage of IT support as a challenge.

What is needed is the ability to bring together meaningful OT data with intuitive real-time IT. The survey showed that although some progress has been made on this front, there is still some way to go. For example:
• 34 per cent of companies do not have effective, real-time solutions for monitoring and managing operational activities
• 54 per cent do not have effective, real-time solutions for monitoring and managing deviations from management system performance standards or expectations
• 56 per cent do not have effective real-time solutions for monitoring and managing impaired process safety barriers
• 74 per cent do not employ effective solutions for monitoring and managing the combined risk arising from operational activities, impaired health of process safety barriers and other management system deficiencies
• Finally, 90 per cent believe that risk awareness and safety would be improved if the workforce and management had access to real-time process safety risk indicators on the plant – a significant increase from 73 per cent in 2016.

This challenge facing operators was neatly summed up by one of our respondents: “It’s important that we understand hazards on a real-time basis and that the continual state of barriers is maintained as designed to reduce incidents.”

A single, shared view

The survey indicates important gaps in organisations’ ability to develop a single, shared view of the operational reality. This critical information should be accessible to everyone from board-room to frontline and is essential to reducing exposure to MAH risk.

The good news is that process safety, operational risk and asset integrity professionals understand the complex nature of the challenges they face, and the organisational, cultural and technological hurdles to overcome. They also appreciate that tools and systems are there to provide the real-time safety analysis and summaries – and then publish that information to all who need it. Eighty per cent believe that a combination of regulations and technology have made their industry safer. The goal now is to build on that, and deploy the systems that enable organisations to bring PSM into the fold of operational excellence.

Methodology and participants

The Petrotechnics PSM survey was conducted online between June 14 and July 27 2017. More than 200 individuals took part, of whom 50 per cent have worked in process safety, asset integrity and operational risk for more than 15 years. Two thirds of respondents have management responsibilities at the corporate level, with the remaining third having single-site or regional responsibilities. Survey participants work in the oil and gas sector (44 per cent), chemicals (41 per cent) and other manufacturing or utility companies (15 per cent).

About the author 

Simon Jones is Head of Professional Services at Petrotechnics and has more than 20 years’ experience in the chemical, oil and gas industries. Currently, he leads the company’s global oil and gas consulting practice in operational management, safe systems of work and operational risk management. Simon is particularly interested in the potential of technology to transform the oil and gas industry by enhancing asset integrity and improving operational performance.

Simon’s background is in process safety – he holds an engineering Master’s degree in process safety and loss prevention from Sheffield University in the UK and is actively involved in the Center for Chemical Process Safety’s (CCPS) European Regional network.


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