Why do we carry out HAZOPs and other Process Hazard Assessments in many industries in the UK and internationally? Process Safety Guru Trevor Kletz summarised it’s UK origins in his article “The Origins and History of Loss Prevention” (Trans IChemE, Vol 77, Part B, May 1999) thus:

‘The new chemical plants built in the 1950s and 1960s were larger than earlier ones and operated at higher temperatures and pressures. The result was an increase in serious accidents. This led to the more systematic and technical approach to safety, known as loss prevention. Its distinguishing features include the quantification of risk, the identification of hazards by HAZOP, audits, inherently safer design, more thorough investigation of incidents, better incident reports and the study in much greater depth than before of explosions, runaway reactions and the dispersion of leaks.’

Essentially, ICI, a major UK based chemicals manufacturer, which was a significant industrial force in the latter half of the 20th century, started, in the 1950s, to build and operate facilities which were larger and contained more hazards. Accordingly, when losses of that containment occurred, they did so with increasing impact. Indeed, the fatal accident frequency among workers doubled in the 8 years from 1960. Something had to be done. And it was. HAZOP was preferred to Inherently Safer Design as it was easier (cheaper?) to adopt at a lower organisational level and were therefore more likely to be adopted.

And it worked. Within 12 years, the FAR had been reduced by over 70% meaning that ICI’s implementation of HAZOP and other supporting techniques had saved around 50 lives:

ici accidents

So, this explains why ICI developed and popularised HAZOPs. However, given the resistance to organisational cultural change is strong and pervasive – challenging ‘the way we do things around here’ – engendering HAZOP adoption is challenging. I believe that the direct, blunt and proselytising approach is almost bound to fail. If you attack a group’s core beliefs, including that the way they operate is appropriately safe, you risk making them cling to them even tighter, becoming only resentful to you as a result. What then?

In my 7 years as a HAZOP chair, I’ve seen a number of routes to HAZOP adoption:

  1. Mandation by a regulatory body. This happened when company A, a major explosives manufacturer, based in England, received an HSE visit. Unable to respond to the inspector’s questions about credible deviations to their process, they were advised to attend a HAZOP course. In early 2016, they attended one of my HAZOP courses, which led to me initiating a HAZOP program which has recently been completed.
  2. Key personnel experiencing a near miss. This happened to company B, an international speciality plastics producer. Their Engineering Manager was called to investigate a suspected sprinkler failure one weekend. It turned out instead to be a solvent leakage, which would only have needed a spark to create a major fire. It turned out that the plant had been put together without a HAZOP. Accordingly, Company B commissioned a HAZOP/LOPA which I chaired, generating 40+ actions and several significant Process Safety Gaps.
  3. New customers who are already HAZOP adoptees. Company C bid successfully for a CHP system replacement on a UK industrial site. Their customer was used to seeing HAZOP as part of any major modification project and insisted that Customer C comply with this approach. Having scant HAZOP experience, they Googled ‘HAZOP Chair UK’ and found PSM (amongst others) on the 1st page.
  4. They have a ‘harmless’ Process Safety Incident. Company D is a Greek Edible Oils Manufacturer, which suffered a blockage and pressure build up initiated explosion, which led to damage and downtime, but fortunately, no injuries or fatalities. The accident investigation recommended a HAZOP, which I led and which generated 30+ actions.
  5. They have a ‘harmful’ Process Safety Incident – which is where we started with ICI…..

The first 4 routes differ from the 5th in that no-one was killed or injured and the company financial position arguably improved (reduced residual risk increasing company valuation, reduced downtime increasing cashflow and profitability).

So, if you want to improve your organisation's bottom line, you really don’t want to find yourself having to take the 5th…..

bottom line