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Taiwan petrochemical plant process safety review

13 June 2013

From 2010 onwards, several incidents and fires occurred at Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) petrochemical plants in Taiwan. At the request of government authorities, FPG successively shut down more than 50 plants in the No. 6 Naphtha Cracking Project, Mailiao Industrial Park from August 2011, for a year-long safety inspection under the supervision of third party organisations. TÜV Rheinland Taiwan was commissioned by FPG to inspect 13 of these units between December 2011 and September 2012.

Practical assessment and comprehensive safety solutions

In the petrochemical industry, USA OSHA regulation 29 CFR 1910.119 “Process Safety Management (PSM)”, which is similar to the European Seveso II Directive 96/82/EC, is a well-known safety specification which has been applied worldwide. Since 2000, FPG has begun the process of implementing PSM within its plants, and so this regulation was used as the framework of the plant safety assessment in this project. 

The multi-assessment tasks covered the 14 elements of PSM, including Process Hazards Analysis (PHA) and Mechanical Integrity (MI) during On-stream and Off-stream inspection, based on Risk-Based Inspection (RBI) according to API in-service inspection standards. 

The MI inspection covered seven key equipment systems, including pressure vessels and storage tanks, piping systems, relief and vent system devices, emergency shutdown system (including Safety Instrumented System, SIS), controls, rotary machinery and electrical equipment (including explosion-proof electrical equipment). 

With regard to the assessment process, the verification on each plant was implemented through the following three phases:
Phase 1: Preliminary audit of PSM system
Phase 2: Site verification of Mechanical Integrity (MI) implementation
Phase 3: Final compliance validation

In Phase 2, site verification of MI implementation, TÜV Rheinland’s professional inspectors were stationed on-site to carry out three-month on-stream (operation) and off-stream (shutdown) inspections at each of the 13 plants. During this period, all inspection plans were reviewed. System management of PSM, implementation of equipment inspection, and all improvements and corrections were also verified. 

As in-service inspection of pressure vessels and piping systems had caused previous fires, all document review and site inspection was conducted by authorised inspectors with API 510 / 570 / 653 / 580 certifications.

Project execution under tight deadlines

Due to the wide scope of this project, TÜV Rheinland assembled a professional team of more than 50 individuals from local partners, international partners, and global teams within the group. This project team included resources from the Safety and Health Technology Center (SAHTECH), Institute of Nuclear Energy Research (INER); Chang Gung University (CGU), local NDT service providers; SIS functional safety experts (TÜV FSExp), and TÜV Rheinland specialists from Germany, Dubai, India, Hungry, China and Taiwan. 

The team had widely varied fields of expertise and were able to demonstrate excellent project management skills to achieve the project goals. Precise project planning and efficient execution ensured the project was completed in under 10 months of extremely tight deadlines and heavy workloads.

Assessment and performance

During project implementation, the team was asked by government authorities and the review panel to report on inspection progress in nine review meetings, which included three on-site survey audits by the review panel. 

In total, more than 3,000 findings and recommendations were provided on FPG’s 13 plants. However, through active rectification and improvements by FPG, the efficacy of pressure vessel, piping, safety control systems, and explosive-proof electrical equipment inspections were considered to have been improved to an acceptable level and the associated risks had been effectively mitigated. Strong commitments on safety improvement from FPG top management has revealed a new safety culture within group corporate operations.

At the final review meeting in September 2012, government authorities and the review panel approved the continued operation of FPG’s 13 plants based on TÜV Rheinland’s final report.

As a result of the perceived success of TÜV Rheinland’s intervention, the Ministry of Economic Affairs recommended that the Taiwan Industrial Safety Association invite the group to share its inspection experience from a professional international certification perspective at a specialist conference.

Approximately 200 experts from the country’s petrochemical industry, government, academia, research institutes and agencies joined the ‘2012 Public Safety Management Joint Supervisory Achievement Conference of Large-scale Petrochemical Plants’ in December, 2012. This was convened to enhance safety management capabilities within the petrochemical industry and establish a foundation for the sustainable development of the industry. 

Taiwanese government agencies are keen to encourage the sharing of industry experience to allow companies to learn from each other and implement the most effective safety concepts. 

At the conference, the vice general manager of TÜV Rheinland Greater China Industrial Services Division, Andrew Kao, explained the process of petrochemical plant mechanical integrity inspection and the safety improvement strategy.

He described the verification framework, implementation points, specific practices and strategies of mechanical integrity inspection, including technical solutions and improvement strategies of the key equipment systems. These included systems covering pressure vessels and storage tanks, pipeline, relief and vent system devices, emergency shutdown systems, instrumentation and control systems, rotary machinery and electrical equipment. 

Kao concluded that through this special report, TÜV Rheinland had brought in comprehensive plant safety solutions to the Taiwanese petrochemical industry. It had assisted industry operators in moving towards an international level of process safety and convergence with international petrochemical safety standards.

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