Abraham Maslow was an 20th Century American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow's hierarchy of needs (MHN), a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. In essence, he postulated that human needs were ordered in a prepotent hierarchy—a pressing need would need to be mostly satisfied before someone would give their attention to the next highest need. His proposed needs order started with Physiological, moving through Safety, Belonging, Esteem and finally Self-Actualisation (which he felt only around 2% of us get to).

Can we usefully apply this theory to Process Safety and, if so, what would it tell us? Firstly, Process Safety exists only in the context of Hazardous Process Operations (in that, the former can only exist in the presence of the latter), which is itself a subset of Commerce, and should therefore be treated accordingly. Accordingly, we must look at the relevance of MHN in the context of businesses. If you agree with the above graphic, Security of Self and Resources (and therefore Process Safety) is a need which underpins higher levels such as contented employees and a successful brand. In which case, as a business owner of director, you should be inexorably drawn back to Process Safety when the business fundamentals of customers, orders, supplies and resources are met.

However, whereas absence of Workplace Security (employee key cards, carparks with CCTV, IT Malware) is quickly sensed and attended to, absence of appropriate Process Safety (control systems, SIFs, training) is much harder to sense and therefore feel uncomfortable about. Consequently, it is often overlooked until identified by lagging indicators (breaches of the Safe Operating Envelope), which can include Loss of Containment, Injury and sometimes, tragically, fatality.

So, if we accept that if we want to successfully own and/or manage businesses which operate with Hazardous Process Operations, we need to find intelligent ways of maximising our Process Safety Return on Investment. One of these is to apply LOPA at the completion of HAZOP reviews. In my 6 years working in this area, I have found that adding a LOPA to a HAZOP increases the time and money required by around 25%. But whereas HAZOPs applies engineering judgement to the identification and rectification of safety and operability gaps in design, LOPA provides a succinct means of quantifying not only the size of the gaps, but the presence of barrier surfeits, the removal of which help to offset the cost of necessary gap bridging.

Indeed, a client recently started up a Hazardous Process Facility without a HAZOP/LOPA only to experience a near miss, but-for-luck-potential-fatality, incident. This led them to commission an As Built Review incorporating HAZOP/LOPA where my team took 31 potentially fatal identified scenarios from HAZOP through to LOPA which became 3 SIL2, 4 SIL1 and 5 NoSIL gaps, but also 19 barriers surfeits.

LOPA works for Process Safety because your own senses can’t.

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