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Hazardex July 2020: Editor's comment

Author : Alistair Hookway, Editor, Hazardex

30 July 2020

On June 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency after 20,000 tonnes of diesel fuel leaked from a power plant belonging to a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel. The leak occurred after a fuel tank became depressurised due to the subsidence of its support pillars.

In a televised government meeting, President Putin criticised the local government for its response to the incident after it emerged that officials first heard about the leak on social media, two days after it had happened. During the meeting, Putin asked: “What, are we to learn about emergency situations from social networks? Are you alright healthwise over there?” 

The question could also have been asked of Norilsk Nickel when the company explained how the impacted fuel tank’s support pillars had held it in place for 30 years without difficulty. This explanation is a prime example of how complacency can lead to process safety incidents. As has been discussed countless times in Hazardex, including within this issue, risk assessments and asset maintenance are vital to ensuring potential incidents are identified and dealt with before accidents can occur. 

Just because a process is working without issue does not mean all is well. Corrosion is one such example where a false sense of security can lead to incidents. A pipeline may seem to be in perfect working order, but undetected corrosion could be occurring due to poor asset maintenance or simply because it hasn't even been looked for.

The issue of complacency has been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic as companies change their methods and operations to account for lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures. These changes have meant many maintenance tasks were postponed or cancelled during the pandemic, or some tasks would have been prioritised over others. However, as mentioned, this could lead to a complacent attitude regarding products, systems and equipment which have been operating without issue. These assets may have been deemed low priority, exacerbating any undetected problems. It could therefore be argued that maintenance is now more important than ever and should play a key role in the ramping up of post-pandemic operations – regardless of an asset's past performance.   

As can be seen by the incident in Russia, where the clean-up could cost up to 100bn roubles (£1.2bn; $1.5bn) and take up to ten years, if companies simply rely on the past as evidence for a safe and reliable asset, then the results can be catastrophic.

…Alistair Hookway, Editor, Hazardex

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