Animal Farm is an allegorical novella by English novelist and essayist George Orwell, first published 1945. It’s essence is a revolution turned sour.

The animals of Manor Farm revolt, driving the drunken, irresponsible farmer Mr Jones, off the farm, renaming it "Animal Farm". They adopt the Seven Commandments of Animalism, the most important of which is, "All animals are equal".

However, as the years pass, the initial ideals dissipate, and the Seven Commandments are abridged to a single phrase: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.", with the Pigs in command.

The key message being: all people are, in theory, equal, but in practice, not.

I believe there are significant parallels, but perversely, in reverse, with the adoption and evolution of the HAZOP method within the Processing Industries.

HAZOP was developed by ICI in the middle of the last century in response to an abrupt increase in Loss of Containment (LOC) incidents at its Plants in the UK, primarily as a result of larger inventories of hazardous chemicals and more severe process conditions. Initially, HAZOPs were applied with precision to identified vulnerabilities in existing and planned facilities. As a result, the rate of both incidents and fatalities dropped off dramatically, leading to around 50 hypothetical lives being saved.

Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century. The principles of HAZOP are remarkably unscathed by the passage of time – probably because they are, by and large, fit of purpose. However, I believe, the application of HAZOP has become wayward, diffuse and at times arbitrary; in other words, perhaps too equal.

Firstly, HAZOP is the victim of its own success, in that, actors with sanction power who sit on the periphery of plant design and operations, often equate Process Safety solely with HAZOP. Which is fine, except that, HAZOP is only sometimes the best tool in the Process Safety Box. If we are not using the most powerful tool for the job, then it’s hard to see us doing the best job with it.

Secondly, HAZOP isn’t always applied at the right time. To my mind, as there will always be a limited budget for such activities, we need to ensure that HAZOP is applied at the time when facilities are at their most vulnerable – namely, at the beginning and end of their lives. The ‘bathtub curve’ below shows us why this is so. Accordingly, if we do nothing else, we need to impress upon the sanction actors that this is where scarce resources should be directed. If they are still doubtful, remind them of the Longford Incident, a 1999 Gas Plant LOC which led to 2 fatalities, where one of the root causes was determined to be the failure of the operator to carry out a planned and budgeted for HAZOP for this aging facility before the incident.

Finally, HAZOP isn’t always carried out optimally. It is never enough just to get the right people in a room to review the scope for a determined period. In some cases, the outcome can be worse than if no HAZOP is attempted, as the sanction actors will feel comfortable enough to tick the box and move on despite key hazards being left unaddressed. There are as many recipes for Effective HAZOPs as there are Effective HAZOP chairs. Let me share just one of them with you:

  • Keep Energised – stand up and walk around when facilitating
  • Develop excellent rapport with team from the off – aim to engage all team members in first session or first break
  • Diffuse tension between team members – call time out; verbal warnings; firing culprit(s)
  • Keep on track – set time limits for discussion; “is there anything we need to record at this point?”
  • Only ‘Self Scribe’ as a last resort
  • Don’t work in excess of 7 hours per day – achieve by planning; negotiating schedule; identifying key risks up front; prioritising nodes (Shell approach – 6 working hours per day, 4 days per week, 4 weeks out of 5)
  • Draw on the knowledge in the room – ask what each individual has to contribute in opening round
  • Hold a Pre-meeting to determine key HAZOP tenets and issues
  • For an existing facility (modification; periodic HAZOP), do site tour prior to start of HAZOP
  • Prepare an Intro presentation based on the Terms of Reference
  • Development of a ‘Minority Opinion’ column to capture dissent and preventing delay

So, let’s work together to ensure that some HAZOPs are indeed more equal than others, saving future lives into the bargain.

bath tub curve