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Blog 42 – And the (Process Safety) Oscar goes to....


In a few weeks’ time, the annual cavalcade will roll into town. Participants will dust off their best frocks and suits, the Press will be there to capture eagerly awaited pronouncements and images of the glitterati. An august auditorium will host the proceedings. And a hush will come over the audience as the lights dim for the first time.

Oh and in an unrelated development, the 90th Academy Awards will take place on the 4th of March 2018…..

I’m eulogising, of course, about Hazards 28 – one of the world’s most prestigious Process Safety Gathering. For 2 days in May, international Process Safety stakeholders gather in the gorgeous Scottish capital to present the latest cutting-edge ideas. From a large consignment of abstracts, a mere 70 papers met the exacting criteria of the Hazards selections committee to win an oral presentation place – by coincidence, a similar number to the nominees for the afore-mentioned Oscars.

Where these two esteemed events diverge, however, is that, as far as I’m aware, no awards are presented to reflect the impact of the presentations on the audience.

Which, in my view, is a pity.

The benefit of awards to Hollywood is marketing and therefore money. It seems (and is) crass, but makes sense when you consider that the purpose of Hollywood is…, cash. Here in the world of Process Safety, I think we would like to feel we exist on a slightly more elevated moral plain. However, I would argue, that we don’t and for good reason. The provenance of Process Safety is multiple and varied, but one of it’s constituents is Du Pont at its Brandywine facility in the US.

Founded by Eleuthère Irénéé du Pont (1771-1834), the Brandywine River Mills became the largest maker of explosive black powder in the United States. In 1802 he sited and began building the mill along the Brandywine River near Wilmington. In 1803 the mill refined its first saltpeter, and du Pont notified family-friend President Thomas Jefferson and soon received Army contracts for refining saltpeter, followed by substantial orders for gunpowder. Brandywine River Powder Mills produced its first gunpowder in 1803.

An explosion in 1815 resulted in 9 deaths, which were the first company casualties, and another serious explosion that occurred in 1818 resulted in 34 deaths, which remains the worst process incident in DuPont company history. There was considerable negative publicity from these deaths, which threatened damaging financial implications for the company should they be repeated. Accordingly, these incidents were investigated, and recommendations implemented. Two years following the major explosion in 1818, changes had been made and it was noted that:

‘We have last Thursday another accident in one of our mills which has been attended to with some satisfaction, as nobody was injured, and it has proved a fair experiment that upon the plan on which our mills are now built we have not to fear any general explosion like the one which happened here two years ago. From the particular construction of the mill the effects of the explosion have been directed in such a way so as not to communicate to any other part of the works. The whole of our mills are now constructed on that safe plan.’

In our industry, we’re used to reacting to incidents so as to make the future safer. In the same way, I think we should be pro-acting and enthusing about the best ideas we have. And one small way to achieve this is to encourage the Hazards 28 delegates to rate the sessions they attended (Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor?) and return the rating sheet to the organisers (with the incentive of being included in a prize draw – 1st prize champagne of course!). This would have two benefits. It would provide the presenters with some crude but useful feedback (if an average mark was also included). Secondly, it would enable the awards to be presented and marketed so that our best new ideas can be given a boost.

Of course, in terms of ‘bums on cinema seats’, we’re not really in the same league as Oscar. But, on the other hand, just how many future lives has he ever saved?

hazards 28

Blog 41 – Safety Third Anyone?

Safety Third

Mike Rowe is an American actor primarily known his work on the Discovery Channel Series ‘Dirty Jobs’, where he is shown performing difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy occupational duties alongside the actual employees. Over the course of several series, Mike has shadowed and replicated work activities including bat cave scavenger, worm dung farmer and roadkill cleaner.

From 2004 to 2008, the Dirty Jobs crew visited many hazardous sites, from crab boats to crocodile infested swamps. They sat through scores of mandatory safety briefings, becoming intimately familiar with all the basic protocol - lock out tag out, confined space, fall hazards, respiratory precautions, PPE, checklists, etc. Through it all, trained professionals were on hand to remind them, that their safety was the top priority. Safety First.

For a while, it worked. They managed to deliver three seasons of Dirty Jobs with no accidents. Then things started to unravel. Stitches, broken bones, sprains, contusions, falls, a damaged eardrum, third degree burns and many near misses. The job sites were no more dangerous than they’d always been, but the mishaps among the crew were skyrocketing. Then one day, a man was killed while they were shooting in a factory near Pittsburg. He was crushed by the door on a giant coke oven. In the break room, where Mike was told of the accident, a large banner said, “We Care About Your Safety!” That got him thinking about the unintended consequences and the dangers of confusing compliance with real safety.

According to the theory of Risk Compensation, people subconsciously maintain their own level of “risk equilibrium” by adjusting their behaviour to reflect the changes in their surrounding environment. Thus, when the environment around us feels unsafe, we take fewer chances. And when that same environment feels safer, we take more. Accordingly, if companies and Safety Professionals repeatedly tell us that our safety is their priority, could that tend to make us feel safer and in turn, be liable to take more risk, therefore making us…less safe?

Recognising this, Oil Industry giant Shell has instigated a program called ‘Chronic Unease’. A concept introduced by Professor James Reason over 20 years ago, Chronic Unease refers to the experience of discomfort and concern about the management of risks. It is a healthy scepticism about one’s own decisions and the risks that are inherent in work environments. It implies that, in a workplace context, the antonym of safety is complacency.

The challenge, however, I see with Chronic Unease, is that it is probably unsustainable. It is possible (and even desirable in acute situations) to be vigilant for a while, but in the long term, becomes psychologically wearing, increasing the risk of violation.

So, what can we do to steer a middle ground between abrogating personal responsibility for safety and being constantly alert? In 2009, Discovery agreed to air a Mike Rowe one-hour special called Safety Third, where he talked candidly about mistakes he’d made on Dirty Jobs, and the unintended consequences of putting Safety First. He argued that many compulsory Safety programs discouraged personal responsibility in favour of Legal Compliance.

One way the engender this is to genuinely empower front line employees to ‘call the safety shots’ themselves. One company which I know applies this philosophy is RasGas (recently merged with QatarGas), a Qatar based LNG producer. Operators are encouraged to act on any discomfort they feel when on shift, to stop production if necessary. Managers are directed to fully support such decisions, while harshly penalising any instances of violations (where the correct plan was known but another followed), however minor.

Perhaps the best way to keep ourselves and others safe at work, is to leverage what’s known about human behaviour and motivation.

Safety Choice

Blog 40 – In the Long Run You’re Probably Still Liable


John Maynard Keynes, widely considered to be one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, once stated ‘in the long run, we’re all dead’. He was commenting on a defensive reflex of some economists to focus on the likely composition of a far distant business landscape, when in fact the short to medium impacts and mitigations are more vital.

In the more contemporary and visceral world of Process Safety, I would suggest that the epithet probably segues into ‘in the long run, you’re probably still liable’.

My friend and associate David Raymond of Embark Consulting made me aware of a recent article in the IOSH Magazine concerning a Process Safety incident fine on Tata Steel.

In 2007 a Process Hazard Review was undertaken by engineering contractor ABB, which amongst other findings, identified a significant risk of a release of benzole vapour -  a known carcinogen which is also highly flammable. Accordingly, they recommended that Tata Steel UK replace missing glass on portholes on two benzole plants and also advised installing a trip system to isolate the steam supply and fitting a pressure alarm. The cost of these measures was estimated at £25,000.

None of the suggestions were acted on in 2007, nor in 2008 or 2009 after ABB carried out follow-up reviews. It is possible that the Tata Management decided that the incident was unlikely to happen on their watch and, in the long run, any impact would be someone else’s problem.

However, on 17 June 2011, a large quantity of benzole vapour was released through an open porthole. The vapour cloud, a mixture of benzene and toluene, spread across the site leaving two workers with breathing difficulties and risking the death of five if the cloud had ignited.

In 2016 Tata Steel UK sold the Scunthorpe works for £1 to British Steel, a company formed the same year to make long-steel products. In doing so, however, they were unable to disengage themselves from the responsibility of earlier decisions as in 2017, a judge sitting at Hull Crown Court handed Tata down a £930,000 fine (plus costs of £70,000) for repeatedly failing to sanction the £25,000 it would have cost to prevent the incident.

For me, the message of this unfortunate and, but for luck, potentially tragic story, is that failing to take appropriate reasonable preventative measures may indeed come back to bite you on the bum – even if you’ve already sold that part of your anatomy to someone else.

tata steel

Blog 39 – The Gamification of Process Safety


Process Safety is important. When applied rigorously it consistently saves future lives and improves company bottom lines. If appropriate and relatively low cost measures had been taken on the BP Deepwater Horizon rig in early 2010, 11 lives would have been saved and ~$50bn of cost avoided.

However, Process Safety is often also perceived as Pedantic, Non-Engaging, Staid and Dull. Furthermore, I believe it is also avoided because of the association with pain, stress and loss. Daniel Kahneman observed in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, an irrational fear when he stopped at traffic lights in Tel Aviv by a bus following a spate of bus bombings in the city. As a psychological researched, he knew that the chances of the adjacent bus blowing up when he was next to it were vanishingly small, nevertheless his awareness of that proximity triggered thoughts of bombing and generated an urge to distance himself from the bus and the threat. In the same way, the more we think about Process Safety, the more likely we are to be drawn into feeling uncomfortable about Process Incidents, thus leading to a psychological rejection of the whole field. We want to tip the bath water out and the baby inevitably departs as well.

I believe we need to find innovative ways of engaging and enthusing our entire Process Industry workforce about Process Safety. A 2015 Gallup poll reported that “the majority (51%) of employees were ‘not engaged,’ while another 17% were ‘actively disengaged’” with their work. One technique we could employ is gamification. Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. As a child we learn through play, while as an adult we use play to relax. Some video games have already had unintended population health benefits. Reviewers of the popular location-based game Pokémon Go praised the game enabling the promotion of physical exercise. Terri Schwartz (IGN) said it was "secretly the best exercise app out there" and that it changed her daily walking routine. According to a study, users took 26% more steps per day once they started using the app.

Yu-kai Chou, is an authority on Gamification and Behavioural Design. He developed a Gamification Framework, Octalysis, after more than 10 years of Gamification research and study. The 8 gamification tenets which can be applied to an activity to make it more captivating are: Meaning, Accomplishment, Empowerment, Ownership, Social Influence, Scarcity, Unpredictability, Avoidance. Fleshing them out, with a possible PS twist, they are:

·        Epic Meaning and Callingparticipants feel that their PS mission is critical and larger than themselves alone.

·        Development and Accomplishmentgenerate short term gratification (e.g. milestone celebration) to encourage participants to endeavour with activity.

·        Empowerment of Creativity and Feedbackiterative and evolving mini-task combined with feedback

·        Ownership and PossessionPerhaps by creating a character which needs to be protected from PS incidents

·        Social Influence and RelatednessCompare and contrast with the performance of other front line teams. Create a PS league table.

·        Scarcity and ImpatiencePut goals just out of reach so they become tantalising

·        Unpredictability and CuriosityRandomly select and notify participants for a monthly PS lottery when a PS task is completed

·        Loss and AvoidanceEngender a sense of potential loss to the character, or perhaps the participants family if they are injured/killed.

I reckon we could weave these principles into a smart phone or tablet app for front line workers so that, for them, Process Safety sparkles and shines. And if they love it, we all benefit.


Blog 38 - What's in your Process Safety Box of Tricks

 female magician

The first episode of a fascinating social experiment was recently aired on British Terrestrial TV. The key premise of ‘No More Boys and Girls’ was that a large part of gender perception is learned, with mainly negative consequences. A class of mixed sex 7 year olds (the age at which gender stereotypes start to be laid down, but perception shift is still possible) took part in a number of exercises to identify and examine gender bias.

One particular task caught my attention. The children were asked to draw and give names to people who had 4 different job titles: Ballet Dancer, Car Mechanic, Make Up Artist and Magician. Invariably they drew and names the Dancer and Make Up Artist as feminine and the other two masculine. They were then introduced to 4 actual representatives of the said professions and, you’ve guessed it, the genders were the unconventional ones in each case.

I think an analogy to the experiment can be made within Process Safety. I believe that most of our industries treat Process Safety Practitioners like undertakers: worthy but serious and perhaps slightly intimidating individuals associated with undesirable events who are only consulted following a fatality and then shunned as soon as the burial has taken place. However, what if we learned to perceive them more as magicians who are engaging, stimulating and bring a box of tricks along to help address industrial safety gaps in an entertaining and enjoyable way.

For my part, I am keen to be part of this revolution and my box of tricks is primed and ready for action. It contains, amongst other things:

·        A recipe for conducting a sizzling HAZOP, which will keep participants engaged and absorbed

·        Several Process Safety training courses designed to maximise trainee participation and satisfaction

·        A Computer Based Process Safety Training module which leverages videos, images and multiple choice questions to entertain and inform

·        A Pop Up Process Safety presentation which playfully uses popular culture to make the subject accessible and fun

·        A colour conditioned LOPA calculator spreadsheet

So please join me in my crusade to changing industries perceptions of us one stimulating experience at a time.

box of tricks

Blog 37 - Constructively Leveraging the Power of Incident Rage 


The Grenfell Tower fire occurred on 14 June 2017 at the 24-storey, 220-foot-high (67 m), Grenfell Tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, West London. It caused at least 80 deaths and over 70 injuries. A definitive death toll is not expected until at least 2018. As of 12 July 2017, 32 victims had been formally identified by the Metropolitan Police. Authorities were unable to trace any surviving occupants of 23 out of the 129 flats (roughly 18% of the flats in the tower block) and their occupants are believed to have died in the fire.

The fire started in a fridge-freezer on the fourth floor. The growth of the fire is believed to have been accelerated by the building's exterior cladding.

The tower was not equipped with sprinklers which may have mitigated the effects of the fire and enabled more residents to escape.

In the Process Safety Management Fundamentals course which I teach, there is a section on Learning Lessons - Accident & Incident Analysis. In it I describe the usual steps which a traditional incident investigation will take, a route which we can see has been assiduously followed in the aftermath of Grenfell:


·        Assess Immediate Causes – Flammable exterior cladding allowing fire to spread and trapping inhabitants in upper floors.

·        Prepare report – UK News Media vilify authorities for ‘allowing’ other tower blocks to be built with similar cladding

·        Take immediate steps to stop similar problems ‘about to happen’ (before analysing causes) – Authorities swiftly react by evacuating residents from these tower blocks while technical solutions to the cladding issue are implemented

·        Blame and Punish – UK News Media decides that the chair of the London borough where Grenfell is located should be castigated. He resigns.

·        Issue proclamation that problem has been dealt with – any day now….


So far, so predictable. And all very satisfying too.

However, key stakeholders used the tragedy in a more elliptic and constructive way. They were able to harness the outrage felt in response to the incident to focus attention on related but non-associated issues – in this case school sprinklers. On the 31st of August 2016, the Independent reported that:

Government ministers have been heavily criticised after quietly abandoning the requirement for fire sprinklers to be fitted in new schools, in what has been called a “retrograde step” by fire chiefs.

An update to the Department of Education’s (DfE) Design in Fire Safety in Schools stated that “Building Regulations do not require the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety”.

“Therefore,” it added, “[guidelines] no longer include an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them.”

On the 24th of June 2017, the Observer was able to report that this requirement had been re-instated, thus reducing the risk of fire escalation for future pupils and probably saving lives in the process.

In our own industries, it is important to look beyond the immediate trigger for an incident to consider underlying factors and root causes. I led a post incident HAZOP at an Edible Oils processing facility in 2014 where overpressure had caused a 500 kg lid to blow off a filter press and land 4 metres away. The immediate trigger was a blocked outlet causing an overpressure as the steam pressure was incorrectly regulated. Easily fixed. However, the underlying cause was poor maintenance and operational discipline and the root cause poor safety culture and inadequate leadership. These latter issues are more diffuse and harder to resolve, but if ignored will lead to other seemingly unrelated incidents going forward.

So, it is important to be rigorous and determined in our incident investigations such that the rage energy is focused on highlighting and addressing the underlying and root causes to achieve sustained benefit.


Blog 36 - Beware the Anti-ALARP Safety Measure

anti gravity

Anti-gravity also known as non-gravitational field is an idea of creating a place or object that is free from the force of gravity. Symbolically represented by the image in the photograph, it is something which is more hypothetical than practical, given that all mass in the universe exerts a gravitational pull on all other masses.

In a similar way, measures taken to improve safety should, by definition, reduce risk. The safety cycle is most frequently: incident(s) occur; investigation(s) instigated; solution(s) identified; risk review(s) undertaken; measure(s) implemented; incident(s) frequency monitored. One of the principles we apply in the Process Safety Industry to help bound and quantify the risk review phase is ALARP.

ALARP is an acronym, which stands for As Low As Reasonably Practicable and emanates from an English Law case in the middle of the last century. The key passage in the ruling was that the defendant had an obligation to provide safety measures unless the cost of such measures was grossly disproportional to the risk reduction gained. In some of the safety reviews I chair, I sometimes crystallise this principle by introducing the ALARP step: a putative additional measure where the cost grossly exceeds the benefit. For example, in an explosives facility HAZOP, we proposed full plant automation at a cost of £3m as the ALARP step for the remaining 10 year plant running time. We were then able to compare this with the risk reduction gained (£10k/yr) to demonstrate ALARP.

So imagine my consternation on a bike ride in the English countryside yesterday to have something which should be as elusive as anti-gravity – an anti-ALARP measure. The image below depicts a new ‘safety’ measure at the entrances to a quaint village. Before the modification, the village inhabitants will have been protected by a 30 mph speed limit. The new measure creates a one vehicle wide chicane at both entrances to the village’s main street. As you can see, there is a SLOW directive painted on the road just before the chicane. No right of way has been established. Accordingly, drivers must now judge who should go first, creating confusion and significantly increasing the risk of accidents (injuries, fatalities etc). So, in fact, anti-ALARP – a measure which costs money and increases risk.

Of course, anti-ALARP does in fact exist in other spheres – the purchase of weaponry is designed to increase (or at least threaten to increase) risk to our opponents/enemies. But in the field of safety, it is an anathema. To have done nothing would have been safer. So how can we avoid these egregious situations. Let’s return to our quaint village measure and postulate the circumstances which may have engendered this scenario. Firstly, there were competing stakeholder drivers in the initial phases of the safety cycle – reduce speeding; fear of increased congestion; freedom of the road; protection of pedestrians. This could have led to a disconnect between the review intent (to reduce speed and therefore reduce accident rates/severity) and outcomes (a compromise solution which tries to address all the stakeholders drivers and, in doing so, increases the risk of accidents). Secondly, the party responsible for paying for and implementing the measure spent little time and effort in benchmarking to assess the impact of and drawing lessons from similar measures elsewhere. I live in a nearby town where they employ a similar but crucially distinct measure. There is a double chicane protecting a zone, which employs a give way to the vehicles inside the zone.

So, to me, the lesson is clear. When following the safety life cycle:

·        Ring-fence desired safety goals from contamination from other valid drivers

·        Cast you net widely to identify and examine potential solutions

Apply the ALARP principle to be able to defend the choices you have made (against more costly ones you have rejected)



Blog 35 - Become Your Own Media Magnifier

manchester bombing

In the UK yesterday there was a devastating bombing incident where 20+ people were killed. It happened during a concert in the city of Manchester. If you live in the UK and have accessed the media in the last 24 hours, it is very likely that you already know. And if you do, how does it make you feel? Angry? Afraid? Sad? Uncomfortable? Is this knowledge likely to affect future decisions about going to concerts or even going to Manchester?

Like many others, I have tapped into social and commercial media and experienced the media magnification of information about an event which is, fortunately, extremely rare. My brain, however, can only act on and make decisions about the information it senses, based on the accumulation of its previous experience. This is known as the Availability Heuristic; Cognitive Rules of Thumb which allow us to quickly make epicurean (pleasure or pain) decisions. This enabled our ancestors to, for example, remember where a predator’s lair was and to avoid it. Useful. However, with media magnification, our availability heuristic can get distorted.

Let’s take another example: the decision to ride a bike without a helmet. If you are an occasional cyclist, think about how you would feel if you were to choose to ride everywhere without a helmet. Got that? As bike accidents are, again, fortunately uncommon and usually not portrayed in the media, your brain may sense that there is less danger in helmetless cycling compared to visiting a friend in Manchester or attending a concert. However, if we look at the risks based on readily available statistics, we reveal a somewhat different picture. According to Wikipedia, 81 people (including the 22 yesterday) have been killed in the UK in terrorist bombings since 2000, an average of just under 5 per year. tells us that the general risk of injury of any severity whilst cycling (probably one where a cycle helmet starts to become useful) is 0.05 per 1,000 hours of cycling.

So, let’s do the maths: the UK population is around 65 million. This means that the likelihood that you will be killed by a terrorist bomb in the next 12 months in the UK is:

5/65,000,000 = 0.00000008

Vanishingly small.

Let’s say that you are an occasional cyclist, covering 200 miles per year. The likelihood that you suffer an accident, the impact of which would have been lessened by wearing a cycle helmet is:

0.05x200/1000 = 0.01

To put it another way, you are now upwards of 10,000 times suffer a more serious cycling injury if you don’t wear a helmet than to be killed in a terrorist bombing.

How uncomfortable do you feel now about the two examples?

You can apply the same approach to your working environment. Stuff happens: people get hurt, injured and killed at work. In some companies the risk of stuff happening is less than others. As a stakeholder in a work operation, your brain again relies on the availability heuristic to decide how comfortable to feel. Generally, any information that the organisation makes available to its stakeholders is in its best interests. Safety processes and practices are developed and implemented over time as a reaction to the organisations experience, usually to maximise the return to their shareholders. However, as a stakeholder, with a few clicks you can enhance and, if you like, leverage your information availability. You can ask questions of the organisation based on your new perspective. And if you’re not comfortable with the responses, you can decide to take your stake elsewhere.

In a brave new business world, I believe that there will be an agglomeration of larger companies and an atomising of the remainder of the workforce into highly skilled and well connected individuals and clusters. And if you strive to become one of the latter, you will have less fear of asking questions of the former and walking away if you don’t’ like what you hear.

Become your own media magnifier. You may thank yourself.

bike accident


Blog 34 - Where Process Safety Lives on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Business


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.

Join us at our forthcoming LOPA session in London:

daddy home 2

Blog 33 - Harnessing Big Data to Help Make Every Day Decisions

amercian football

American Football is a metaphor for the nation it represents. It is a collective sport, but where individual prowess differentiates the competing teams; it is violent and brawling and yet sublime in execution; it is raw and refined. A perfect contradiction. And it allows us to do and watch warfare without the war. It matters precisely because it doesn’t.

And yet it seems that this is no victimless pursuit. Paradoxically those who gain the most financially may have the highest risk of premature brain deterioration. And yet, these same individuals are also likely to gain increased self-esteem and confidence compared to their peers. Until the advent of Big Data, there was no way economic way to harvest and interrogate the statistics to help, for example, the parent of an 8 year old, whether to choose say football or basketball as school sport. Now, however, most of us have access to machines with as much processing power and speed as existed in the entire world less than 60 years ago. So why not use it to help make everyday decisions which we have traditionally based on gut feeling or conferring with an intimate or close friend.

It would, for example, be relatively straightforward to collate data and meta data from research into the likely physical, financial and psychological outcomes of starting to play football at 8. The axes could include earning potential, self esteem, finishing age and brain damage. It might look something like this:

Football Experience Outcome Correlator








Years Active





Brain Damage by 50 %

Increased self esteem %

Stopping by age %







































































 This could act as a crude, but perhaps broadly realistic predictor of long term outcome of a crucial but poorly data informed parenting decision.

In the same way, the vulnerability of hazardous process plants to significant loss of containment incidents can be plotted. There is a correlation between readily harvested site metrics and the likelihood that a major incident leading to injury or fatality is experienced. These include:

  • Application of an Effective System for recording and recycling learning from ‘near misses’
  • Experience of a major LOPC in the past year
  • Experience of a major LOPC in the past 5 years
  • Exclusive reliance on Lagging PS Indicators
  • Sharing of PS Incident information within organisation
  • Sharing of PS Incident information within industry
  • Application of an independently validated Process Safety Methodology
  • Undertaking of Process Safety Training for key staff at least annually
  • Carrying out of planned audits and safety drills at least annually
  • Carrying out of surprise audits and safety drills at least annually
  • Inclusion of at least one board member with a specific Process Safety Accountability
  • Use PSSRs for all major restarts
  • Operating a Legacy Facilities HAZOP schedule of not exceeding 5 years
  • PS related site docs (PFD’s, P&ID’s, Hazardous Area Drawings, Key Single Line Diagrams, Escape & Evacuation Routes, Fire & Gas locations & layouts etc) reviewed and revised on an annual basis
  • Availability of Emergency Lighting on site
  • Existence of Emergency Egress Routes on site
  • Onsite Fire & Gas systems tested annually

The answers to these questions then become the input to a program which applies the relevant data to rate said facility for incident (and therefore cost) vulnerability. The outcomes would look something like this:

  • Elevated Risk of PS related fatality within a year
  • Elevated Risk of PS related fatality within 5 years
  • Non-elevated Risk of PS related fatality. Keep vigilant.
  • Congratulations! You are a PS Exemplar and are automatically shortlisted for the prestigious PSM Awesomeness Award

I call it the Process Safety Sensibility Index.

Hell, if we can easily corral Big Data for something as mundane as saving 50 quid on your car insurance, just think how valuable it could be if applied to help Johnny’s mum make an informed life decision or Johnny’s dad come home from work alive.

dad home

Blog 32 - A Little Less Stick....and a Lot More Carrot

big stick

As a Process Safety professional, I am convinced that a judicious use of Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment tools at key project stages helps save future lives and optimise operating companies’ revenues. However, I feel that we don’t always achieve the right balance of carrot and stick.

The psychology of adoption of appropriate Process Safety is, I believe, from a company perspective is driven by fear. Fear of paying a large fine; fear of having production halted while investigations take place; fear that a near miss could ‘but for luck’ have become a major incident. In my experience, it takes a jolt for a company to realign its Process Safety dynamic - and once this happens, it often becomes the new norm. So a big stick (or the threat of one) does appear to work at a corporate level.

However, the people who work in companies are differently driven and motivated. Sure, they’ll respond in the short term to the big stick, to avoid pain and discomfort. However, over the long term, they will find ways to avoid it by taking a different path: most likely a more hazardous path. So I would encourage a different approach - less stick and more carrot. We need to find ways of making good Process Safety behaviour more interesting, satisfying and psychologically rewarding. Let’s celebrate the operator who prevents a near miss becoming an incident by a timely intervention. Let’s make exciting associations with effective application of a Safety Review (eat your heart out Hollywood!). Let’s put the fun into the Process Safety function. Let’s tell the world when they ask us what we do ‘we make incidents like Piper Alpha NOT happen’ - making nothing happening for a long time gratifying.

For my part, I commit to being part of this revolution by holding frequent Pop Up Process Safety events. I will explain (amongst other things) where Mick Jagger gets his Process Safety Satisfaction; what Tom Cruise can teach us about HAZOP chairing; how the film ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ demonstrates the different types of human error. The next one is scheduled for the 20th of March in Singapore.

I’m in…..what about you?

big carrot

Blog 31 - I Can't Get No......Process Safety Satisfation

mick jagger

Over half a century ago. Mick Jagger uttered the famous mantra ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ in the eponymous song. It seems to me the lyric encapsulates a key driver of human behaviour, whatever the end goal is on the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. If the purpose of life is simply more life, then perhaps the goal of life should be individual satisfaction. For most of the key tenets of our lives, we know and target the scenarios which lead to consumption gratification.

And mostly that works fine. We buy and consume food and drink, we engage with other people for social and sexual benefit, we sleep when we are tired. All of which is likely to make us feel good if they are achieved. It seems our evolution has created rewards, often in the form of the hormones dopamine and oxytocin, which are released to encourage us to abandon the status quo and engage with the barriers between us and these tenets. Often the more significant the tenet and the higher the barrier, the greater the associated reward: for example, you may risk competition and rejection in pursuit of a mate.

However, in the arena of industrial hazards, this relationship becomes very tenuous. In terms of risk reduction, it benefits the group if near misses are reported and acted upon. Statistically, there are many times more near misses than the accidents they may have become. And as the antecedents of both are often the same - for example, the cause of a dropped load leading to an injury or a ‘lucky escape’ - the learning will reduce the likelihood of the same or similar cause reoccurring. So, it would seem to make sense to encourage the reporting of near misses.

However, this is not always the case. Currently, many operating companies set milestones for lost time incidents. As the milestone is approached, who wants to be the one to report a minor injury which would scupper the celebrations? Also, many companies have incentive schemes which are aligned to productivity, which is superficially negatively correlated with downtime. Furthermore, in companies with a strong safety culture, where near miss reporting is encouraged and the corresponding reduction in incidents means that nothing untoward happens for increasing lengths of time - which is a good thing, but not a satisfying thing.

So what to do? How can we make the promulgation of less incidents be satisfying to the front line worker? One idea I have is to take an idea that Hollywood has hijacked and re-imagine it. I don’t think I’m alone is watching action movies where heroes prevent bad things happening. Tom, Arnie et al battling to prevent the explosion, toxic cloud, wild beast from doing their worst. We are experiencing the vicarious echo of the actual experience. Risk and Reward. Why not apply the same principle to rewarding front line workers when they report a near miss which could have led to an injury or fatality.

An example I heard recently from an operating company was a propane leak in the vicinity of the air intake for a compressor. ‘There was no explosion but for luck and the quick reaction and reporting of the shift supervisor’. In this case the supervisor was thanked. How about enhancing this thanks with the reward of a simulation of the incident his (or her) quick and robust intervention prevented. It could be shown at an end of year event and a copy presented to the worker. You have just created a lasting psychological reward which will reap benefits long after any monetary offering has been forgotten.

Who said you can’t get no Process Safety Satisfaction!

near miss

Blog 26 - 'Reductio Ad Absurdum’ A World without Safety Barriers   

rabbits foot

Reductio Ad Absurdum, which is Latin for "reduction to absurdity, is a rhetorical tactic which attempts either to disprove a statement by showing it inevitably leads to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion, or to prove one by showing that if it were not true, the result would be absurd or impossible.

As examples, it can be used in the classic parent child permission dispute:

The child is in trouble for skipping school, so tells his father, "All of my friends were going!" The father responds, "Well, if all of your friends were going to jump off of a bridge, would you do that, too?" 

Or perhaps as a cruel put down:

Your friend says, "If I rub my lucky rabbit's foot, then I will do well on this test." You respond, "So, if it brings good luck, then I need to rub it so that my mum's cancer will go away, and my dad will get a new job, and our family will win the lottery.”

In this case, you might win the argument, but lose the friend.

In my professional sphere, there is much debate about Process Safety Return on Investment (ROI). Echoing the perennial problem with marketing spend, where “you know half of it is worth it; the question is which half?”, it is fiendishly difficult to determine what the optimum spending on Process Safety is. One tactic to at least see what one boundary looks like, the one where nothing is spent on Process Safety, we could apply the ‘Reductio Ad Absurdum’ principle and see what that looks like.

Let’s take a new, grassroots 500,000 bbl/d refinery in the Middle East. In order to minimise capex and opex, a cavalier operator instructs the contractor to focus on designing a plant which will start up and operate, while deliberately neglecting any equipment or instrumentation which would exclusively be designated for Process Safety. So out go any Safety Instrumented Systems (trips), Safety Valving (PSVs, BDVs), Consequence Mitigation (Active and Passive Fire Protection Systems, Bunding, Gas Detection, Emergency Egress etc) or Safety Training. When oil refineries were first designed and built over 100 years ago, I guess this was close to the remit and operator gave to a designer. And compared to a typical current design, there would probably be considerable cost saving.

So far so incident free. And then you start the refinery up. And pretty soon you’ll experience a credible process deviation, which, due to the complete absence of reactive and mitigative Process Safety barriers, will probably create a series of damaging, possibly fatal consequences, the costs associated with which will most likely far outweigh the initial benefits gained. This equates to a negative PS ROI.

We can also look at the other boundary, where a different and extremely timid operator’s obsession with Process Safety leads him to instruct the contractor to design and inherently safe facility. Cost no object - only (very) deep pockets. In which case, you’d probably be better to spend your money on something else, or even keep it in the bank at 0.01% annual return. Again negative PS ROI.

So our little philosophical exercise has demonstrated that you can easily spend too little or too much on Process Safety. Much harder is to spend the right amount. In the end, it boils down to what your appetite is for the size of the holes in your Swiss Cheese. Bon appetit!

swiss cheese

Blog 25 - How to navigate through the invisible world of culture?  

british culture

I am British. I have lived in the UK for the majority of my life. And, I have an accent which reflects my upbringing, But when I think of accents, it seems to me that most other people have them, but I am amazingly accent free. Along with the vast majority of the human race, I am deaf to my own accent. Interesting, but hardly harmful.

Also, I am aware of some of the more blatant aspects of British Culture - the Royal Family, Queuing, talking about the weather, wearing poppies in the run up to Armistice Day. However, many aspects of British Culture are so familiar to me that I have to work hard to notice them. In her book, ‘Watching the English’, Kate Fox describes bracing herself to deliberately bump into people in a busy London railway station to see how many of them would apologise to her. And most of them did. Even though she was to blame. Another observation she notes is that when British people feel slighted, they tend to complain to a third party rather than the person they feel to be responsible. It seems that, aside from the cruder cultural stereotypes referenced above, we are effectively blind to our own culture; to ‘the way we do things around here’.

I feel this is more problematic than accent deafness. If you are blind to the vagaries of your own culture, then how do you know what best behaviour is in any situation? In the field of Process Safety, this is a challenge for all operators, but particularly to those engaging in collaborations with others. Both parties will probably have been swimming in their own cultural fluid for so long that they have ceased to be aware of it. However, the composition of the respective fluids may be different, perhaps markedly so.

So, if you were an operator with a robust Process Safety pedigree, how could you best imbue its key tenets to a collaborator with a different heritage and attributes. Given that they are probably blind to any cultural weaknesses, they are likely to at best be baffled and at worst affronted by a direct approach. However, if a collaboration, based on your partner’s Process Safety grammar is established, the risk of incidents shoots up. And if the worst happens, no-one will remember the name of your partner. Think Union Carbide’s collaboration with a local shareholder at Bhopal. Think Total and its JV partner at Buncefield.

If you’ve decided to go down this path, there are a number of measures you can put in place to ease the necessary Process Safety cultural shift. Firstly, you can undertake a PS Audit based on established metrics (OSHA, CCPS or EI frameworks), to identify gaps. You can then suggest a customised PS communication approach which is ‘as easy as PIE’.

  • Pointed - for top management, generating a succinct and powerful argument for PS to be an equal partner for investment decisions as financials, logistics and contracts
  • Informative - for front line superintendents, to equip them with a PS sensibility. Perhaps best achieved by F2F training.
  • Energising - making PS engaging and enjoyable for operators and technicians. CBT might work well here.

And if they balk at your initiative, they might not be the right partner for you. It’s a big world - there’ll be other opportunities.



Blog 24 - How to be a Mind Reader 

ticket inspector

Several years ago Transport for London, the organisation which manages the public transport for England’s capital, unveiled this poster. It seems that they were experiencing a spate of ticket dodgers. Their aim, I guess, was to make putative freeloaders sufficiently uneasy about the risk of not purchasing a valid ticket that they would refrain. I have no idea how successful the campaign was - probably not hugely, as I didn’t see it run again. But it made me think. We like to think we’re distinct, special, irreplaceable. And in some ways we are. But, in others, we’re actually very, very similar.

How closely would you say you resemble a pebble? You probably wouldn’t even deign to respond to such a foolish question. And you’d be right. What about a banana. Now you’re affronted. What a ridiculous comparison. I eat bananas, I don’t resemble one. But what if I said that, in one significant way at least, you are 50% banana. Banana man - sounds like a wacky comic superhero. But in terms of genetic material, you and a banana share 50%.

0% Common Genes: A Human and a Pebble

the donaldpebble

50% Common Genes: A Human and a Banana


90% Common Genes: A Human and a Cat


99% Common Genes: A Human and a Chimp


>99.9% Common Genes: A Human and a Human

tribal woman

As Process Safety Professionals, we’re often seen as the bad guy (or gal). We’re the opposite of ‘the bank that like to say yes’. We’re the kill-joys, the pedants, the cheerless gamekeepers. In a training session I ran recently, one of the delegates mused that his PS department was located on the same floor and Internal Audit and Lawyers (archetypal ‘No Guys’). But what if we used the above genetic information to our advantage. If your genotype differs from everyone else on the planet by 0.06% (Every 1499 of each 1500 of your genes is identical to 7 billion other people), then it makes sense that how you would feel about and therefore react to a situation is, by and large, the same way as anyone else. Ta-dah! You’re a mind reader and you didn’t even know it.

I don’t know about you (well, actually, it seems, I do), but I respond well to some behaviour and poorly to others. I appreciate it when people and friendly and relaxed with me. I like it when I feel that my concerns are being listened to. I positively glow when my endeavour is praised rather than my success. However I dislike being ordered aggressively to do things. I feel uncomfortable if information is stated rather than explained. I reject being made to feel part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

If you want to get the best out of people, just imagine how you would feel if your behaviour were directed at yourself. And then make your move. It could save lives.

same brain

Blog 23 - What is the Opposite of Opportunity Cost and Why it is Important? 

opportunity cost

In microeconomic theory, the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone where, given limited resources, a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives. In other words, you can’t both eat your cake and sell it. If you eat it, the opportunity cost of your decision is the sales value of the cake you won’t earn. We frequently generate opportunity costs in how we use our time. You can’t simultaneously go to see the Rolling Stones in concert and attend a Garden Party with the Queen. The opportunity cost of doing the former is the latter and visa versa.

To a more complex extent, opportunity costs also exist in business. If a company sets a budget for spending on, say, Process Safety, it generally doesn’t exceed that budget and once it’s spent, any Process Safety amenity not purchased but considered becomes the opportunity cost. So far so straightforward. Often companies get this about right, expending a ‘Goldilocks’ amount - spend too little and PS incidents increase, leading to damage, injury, production downtime and possibly death; spend too much and the benefits are diminished to the extent that the money could have been more productively spent elsewhere.

But what it they get this judgement wrong? What if they decide to reduce the spending on Process Safety, perhaps because they haven’t had an incident for a long time (which may ironically be due to the fact that they were spending the right amount on Process Safety)? Or chosen not to pay for a specific safety measure on the grounds of perceived cost benefit impact? Wouldn’t this become the opposite of an opportunity cost - a short term economy which engendered an increased likelihood of major impact?

Perhaps we would call this a Pyrrhic Saving. You may remember Pyrrhus, a Greek leader around 300BC, who was engaged in conflict with the Romans in Italy. He was victorious in a couple of battles, but, as the Romans could draw on greater and more accessible resources, he famously declared "If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined". From this the phrase Pyrrhic Victory emerged - one that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. In this vein, a Pyrrhic Saving would be one where spending is withheld results in increased frequency of incidents, in the worst case major ones.

Sadly, in our industry, there are too many examples of companies which made a Pyrrhic Saving:

  • Texas City. Pyrrhic Saving - $0.1m (Installation of LAHH trip on Distillation Column). Cost of Disaster - 15 fatalities / 180 injuries / $3,000m
  • Deepwater Horizon. Pyrrhic Saving - $1m (Investigation and probable replacement of safety barrier whose failure was evidenced by rubber in well fluid). Cost of Disaster - 11 fatalities / 15 injuries / $50,000m
  • Piper Alpha. Pyrrhic Saving - $0.1m (Dismantling of ceiling between Condensate pump and its PSV). Cost of Disaster - 167 fatalities / 35 injuries / $3,000m
  • Bhopal. Pyrrhic Saving - $0.05m (Operation of Vent Scrubber System, which had been turned off at the time of the incident to save money). Cost of Disaster - >3000 fatalities / >30000 injuries / $1,000m

In fact, it is, on average, 10000+ times more expensive to recover from an accident than to have authorised the expenditure which could have prevented it. As Trevor Kletz was won’t to say “If you think Safety is Expensive, Try the Cost of an Accident”


Blog 22 - Force Majeure Events: How Would You React?

Trees on the trtack

Force majeure meaning "superior force", also known as casus fortuitus (Latin) "chance occurrence, unavoidable accident",is an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond control and reasonable anticipation. An incident which, at the same time as being very rare, can have a significant and often detrimental impact.

I was a victim of such an event last weekend. I cycled to my local station in order to take a commuter train to London to chair a HAZOP. When I arrived, passengers were milling around the station concourse and I quickly surmised that a tree had fallen on the track, preventing any train movement. As I had a folding bike, I, along with 3 fellow commuters, took a taxi to the nearest station which had trains coming from other routes. Unfortunately, we got caught up in the ‘school run’, so I decided to hop out and cycle the rest of the way. Once I’d ascertained my new ETA, I communicated this to my client. Not surprisingly, the train I did catch was extremely full and therefore rather uncomfortable, but once I reached London, I sped along the South Bank of the Thames to get to work.

So, aside from an amusing anecdote, what did I learn from this experience? We already know that such events are rare, often vanishingly so. Consequently, our preparedness for their occurrence is at best limited. We learn best when we react or proact in any given situation, digesting the outcome and formulating a plan for recurrence. However, with a Force Majeure type event, we are seldom afforded this opportunity. Another feature is that they often have significant impact (otherwise, I guess, they’d be Force Mineure and we’d hardly notice them). Consequently, how were respond to them becomes more important - in some cases life saving.

Which creates a quandary. How do you best ready yourself for a rare but impactful event? This is a practical consideration in my professional world where Process Safety Disasters are fortunately very rare but always costly and frequently deadly: Deepwater Horizon, Piper Alpha, Bhopal or Texas City. You can undertake planned disaster training. While better than nothing, any planned and scheduled alert may fall into the same category as flight safety demonstrations, where the knowledge of the contrivance and its familiarity severely lowers the learning iquotient. But what if you didn’t know the test was, well, a test?

This scenario occurred to me when I was carrying out a HAZOP/HAZID closeout on an Oil Production facility in Kurdistan a few years ago. The well fluid being produced contained around 2% H2S, a toxic gas which is lethal if inhaled at concentrations of 0.1%. Accordingly, one of the items to close out was a planned toxic gas alert. The day before, a fixed H2S detector triggered an alarm, to which the workforce reacted promptly and effectively. And this made me think - what if the alarm was contrived but unscheduled. Without additional information, the workforce would react as if the threat was real and thus optimise their learning, making them safer if and when a real leak occurred.

Which is all good until, inevitably, the workforce finds out that they have been misled (albeit for the best of reasons) and that most powerful and sacred of bonds - trust - is broken. Unstitching the entire benefit of the initiative.

So still in the quandary? Well, perhaps there is another way. How about telling the workforce from the start that, in order to minimise their risk of a force majeure type event, there will be a combination of scheduled and unannounced alerts. The scheduled ones will allow them to calmly practice the correct response, which they have learned in the classroom and, crucially, honed during the unannounced alerts. And there would be learning benefits for the company as well. As they are managing the unannounced alerts, they would be in a position to observe the reactions of the workforce and prepare and communicate appropriate improvements.


Blog 21 - ‘Deepwater Horizon’: Spoiler Alert - Goodies and Baddies Revealed

deepwater horizon

For perhaps the first time in my life I voluntarily went to see a film for (mostly) educational reasons. The film was Deepwater Horizon, the eponymously titled Hollywood blockbuster, which portrayed the chronology around the subsea blowout which caused 11 deaths, spilled 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and cost BP somewhere north of $50bn ($50,000,000,000). It was a finely crafted disaster movie, rendered all the more gripping by the fact that it depicts real events and real human responses to them. You almost turned away from the scorching heat from the fires and explosions and felt drenched by the cascading oil on the rig.

And in the hallowed tradition of Hollywood, there are (SPOILER ALERT) heroes and villains. Prime candidate for the former would be Mike Williams, Chief Electrical Technician, played in the film by Mark Wahlberg, who goes back into the burning rig to rescue injured colleagues. For the latter, look no further than John Malkovich’s BP Company man, Donald Vidrine. Sorted. Except, to me, the reality isn’t quite as simple and satisfying as that.

BP, who owned the oil field concession, contracted Transocean, the rig drill for oil using the Deepwater Horizon. The Deepwater Horizon floated thousands of feet above the sea bed and was coming to the end of a drilling program, where Halliburton had just prepared a concrete seal which would allow rig to disconnect and move to its next location. They were 40+ days behind schedule. Time is money. Lots of money. BP, Transocean and Halliburton are all big multi-national companies, quoted on Wall Street, beholden to shareholders looking for quarterly profits. Judgement calls were made, including the decision not to carry out a seal test, which was a regular practice costing $100k.

So what’s my take on who the villains and heroes of the piece are: shareholders; the general public; in fact….you. Or to be more specific, your human nature. Us. A cast of 7 billion villains.

Let me take you back. Back 2 million years. Back to the dawn of our species. For more than 99% of our evolution, we lived in small tribes. It wasn’t a fun life. Average life span 30 years. Daily struggles for food. Dangerous predators and rival tribes abounding. But we did have one thing going for us. We had big brains. This enabled us to combine our skills for the benefit of the tribe. It meant that we could survive and sometimes thrive. Our big brains helped us to act for the benefit of the group and not just ourselves. We evolved the ability to counteract our instinct and consciously do something else because it would be better for the tribe. But things were still pretty tough, so we retained our short term focus - if we had the opportunity to eat, drink or pursue a mate, we did because we knew those opportunities were rare and often fleeting.

Now let’s come back to the present. Your brain is essentially that of our ancestors and will instinctively respond to its environment in the same way. Accordingly, we will eat more than is good for us and hunger for short term gains. All of us. Which is why we are the villains. Boo! However, if we enact our ‘free will not’, we can override our short term instincts and make decisions which can benefit people we will never meet - including our descendants. One man who is already leveraging his ‘free will not’ is Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever. The company he manages is one of the largest in the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Groups) market. It has a turnover of €50bn and impressive and rising profits. And, somewhat paradoxically, has had a sustainable, long term focus since Mr Polman took the helm in 2009. He set out his stall early on by saying that if investors were looking for a quick profit, he could respect that, but would rather they took their money elsewhere. He was going against his instinct and standing up for his and our future generations, taking a big risk with the stock market status quo. Acknowledging the key leading indicator of climate change of CO2 increase rather than relying on the lagging indicators of flooding, drought, famine and civil unrest. And his courage was rewarded: after a couple of lean years, Unilever has performed ahead of its peers by championing a sustainable agenda.

So who is doing this in our own sector? From my limited experience, Shell and RasGas are two companies who appear to give the proper weighting to Process Safety Leading Indicators, such as Operator Care, PS Training and Audits. They seem to be saying to the financial markets, investment in Process Safety is an investment in the long term sustainability of the company. It makes commercial sense. If you invest in the $100k seal tests, you are more likely to avoid the consequential damages of a blow out - which was 500,000 times more.

So, you may have noticed that I failed to nominate a hero for the movie. Well, is strange as it seems, it is also… Because, fortunately, thanks to billions of our people over the last 1% of our evolution, we no longer live in a world or danger and scarcity. We can now afford to exercise our ‘free will not’ to make sustainable, long term choices. So, to sum up, this life drama in which we are all actors, we are the villains. And, with just a little gumption, we can all be the heroes to. You choose.

heroes villains

Blog 20 - 'We Don't Need No Education'

we don't need no education

When I was a youth more than 3 decades ago in an unreconstructed Scotland, I used to buy LPs. For those of you of a younger disposition, LP is an acronym meaning Long Playing. It was a 12” (30cm) thin plastic disc, which had a narrow undulating diminishing spiral groove which, when placed on a turntable and rotated, magically, came audially to life. It was long playing, as the music which was recorded on and emanated from it lasted for upto 30 minutes each side, compared to a Single, which was a miniature version of the same, and accommodated 1 song on each side.

One of the LPs I bought, in 1980 I believe, was ‘The Wall’ by a group called Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd were a rock group, formed in Cambridge in the late 1960s, which had risen to become one of the biggest bands of the 1970s. By 1980, they hadn’t released an album of new material for 5 years and anticipation was high. The album, lyrically autobiographically driven by bassist Roger Waters, was critically panned but commercially successful. One of the themes was the ‘sausage machine’ or ‘production line’ schooling which Waters had experienced. An education where memory and memorising were prized above all and success was measured by the passing of tests of memory.

As a result, we have, for generations, revered complex recall as sitting at the apogee of our civilisation. Which was fine when we only had inefficient and incomplete ways of quickly sourcing the information required to make informed decisions. But now we have Google. We all have more information at our fingertips than the most powerful person in the world (the American President) had a mere 3 decades ago. So, while knowledge and memory remain, and will remain, important, the skills we need to thrive in the 21st century have evolved.

Atul Gawande, American physician and author, demonstrates in his book, the Checklist, that by preparing and following simple lists, we can achieve significantly improved outcomes. Most of his examples come from medicine, where the use of checklists complex and critical interventions can and does save lives. However, there are useful parallels in our own industry. We are managing complex processes where most of the knowledge is available and where rigorously following a structured approach reduces the likelihood of an incident. And when we have an incident, it tends not to be a minor one. Think Piper Alpha, Deepwater Horizon, Texas City and Bhopal.

We are already doing some of the right things. Most of our operating companies employ a Permit to Work System, which is effectively a bespoke checklist for the rigorous execution of abnormal operations. But I think we need to do more. We need to find better ways of praising questions above answers, considered response over knowledge, bottom up instead of top down. The answer is the internet - now what was the question again?


Blog 19 - Life: The Ultimate Video Game


Grand Theft Auto is an open world action-adventure video game series set in fictional locales modelled on American cities. Players can choose missions to progress an overall story, as well as engaging in side activities. The series focuses around many different protagonists who attempt to rise through the ranks of the criminal underworld, although their motives for doing so vary in each game. The antagonists are commonly characters who have betrayed the protagonist or his organisation, or characters who have the most impact impeding the protagonist's progress. The series contains satire and humour. And it’s popular. Very popular. My son plays. His friends play. In fact more than 33 million people play regularly worldwide.

The great thing about video games is that they allow the participants to vicariously experience the feelings the events in life would give them, in the complete absence of consequential impact. You can drive a car really fast, total it and walk away completely unscathed (to get another cup of tea). You can provoke a fight with a local hoodlum, survive or perish, then pause to take a bite of your sandwich. You can meet the gal (or guy), engage with them and then move on to someone else - all in the time it takes you to cross your legs. Brilliant. And Satisfying.

So why don’t you take further. Virtual reality. Everything video games gave you, but in glorious 3D. Sensations working overtime. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

OK I’m now ready for the next step. An enhanced virtual reality game has been created where you are the main protagonist. Everything revolves around you. You can see, hear, touch, smell and event taste your surroundings as if it were the real thing. And with all your hours and days playing video games, you are uniquely qualified to excel at it. Actually, it is the real thing. It is life.

As our industries have developed to take advantage of increasingly sophisticated technology, they can begin to look, sound and feel like a very sophisticated video game. You respond to images and sounds from interactive screens. You press a button and pumps, compressors, distillation columns, heat exchangers spring into action. You touch a warm pipe and it feels…..well, warm. Except, occasionally, things go wrong. Errors lead to a pipe bursting; vessel splitting; a pump seizing. And, as in a video game, your senses will detect a threat - the noise of an explosion, the smell of toxic gas, the sight of a rupture. But, unlike a video game, these sensations will presage pain, injury and in the worst cases, death. Your death.

So let’s use our extensive experience to thrive at the game of life. Everything else is just an echo. Take care and have fun out there.

life video

Blog 18 - Harnessing the Feeling: How to Sense and Combat Modern Dangers

coke sugar

We all know that drinking gallons of soda is bad for us. It’s been proven. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have determined that drinking 20 ounces (1 large cup) of soda a day was linked to 4.6 years of additional biological aging. If you want to shorten your life, it’s a sure fire way. So we know soda is bad for us; we just don’t feel it. When we drink soda, we get physiologically rewarded: it tastes good, we feel content. This is because our brains have evolved to keep us alive long enough to reproduce and ensure the long term safety of our offspring. In order to survive we need calories and a 20 ounce cup of soda is an extremely efficient means of acquiring them. We have not, however, evolved senses which will alert us to modern perils which could damage our long term satisfaction and health.

This seems rather bleak. We seem to be victims of an archaic defence mechanism, which is now diminishingly effective. A bit like an air raid siren in an age of cyber attacks. However, there is hope. We have the remarkable tool of consciousness, which enables us to review and modify our instinctive reaction to external stimuli. A kind of contemplative veto. A ‘free will not’. The challenge in applying this tool is the cognitive dissonance which arises (In the Blue Corner - ‘I want to get pleasure from drinking that soda’ and in the Red Corner - ‘I want to lose weight and live longer’) engendering mental discomfort.

Recognising that changing habits to give us better long term outcomes, generates short term stress, is the first step to addressing the issue. In my industry, we deal with modern threats of a different and altogether more dramatic nature. Our major risks, Process Safety risks, are not particularly aligned to detection and mitigation by our senses. This is because the hazards (high pressure flammable hydrocarbons, deadly toxic gases) are kept in check by multiple independent barriers. It is only when those barriers are breached (which may occur insidiously without detection - high pressure alarms and trips failing before the overpressure in the tank, leading to rupture) that our senses are alerted (hearing the explosion, smelling the toxic gas), by which time it is probably too late. If we can create a nurturing and stimulating working environment, we can engender these non-intuitive safer habits. We need a workforce which is motivate by what is safe, not just by what feels safe.


Blog 17 - Go with Your Gut: Why Emotion trumps Logic in Process Safety 


Continuing the theme from my previous blog, I believe that our species is primarily Epicurean in mentality - driving towards pleasure and away from pain, in line with the purpose of life being, well, life….and more life. If that premise is accepted, then I would propose that the goal of life is satisfaction and that the development of confidence underpins our ability to be brave enough to make decisions targeting long term satisfaction. So far, so philosophical. But how does this have anything to do with Process Safety?

Companies have a vested interest in Process Safety. Their principle driver, one based largely on logic, is to maximise a return to their shareholders. Accordingly they strive to:

  • minimise PS incidents, which cost, on average, 10000+ times the cost of measures which would have prevented them
  • maximise their PS ROI
  • maximise their uptime, which is negatively correlated with Lagging Indicators such as breaching the Process Safety envelope (e.g. popping PSVs)

Consequently, they strive to align the PS related behaviour of its employees with these goals. In the Oil Industry, they have done this in a number of ways, including:

  • Chronic Unease – workforce encouraged to be vigilant at all times
  • Focus on Lagging Indicators (e.g. days without lost time incident) exacerbated by celebrating milestones, as was the case at the Texas City Refinery Disaster in 2005.

However, the workforce they are trying to influence are, as discussed above, driven by different forces, emotional forces - to protect themselves and their colleagues. Individuals generally respond to the drivers of their own brains. Our brains are the most complex organisms in the known universe and as such are very energy draining (25% of body’s energy vs 2% weight). Consequently, they have evolved to be very energy efficient and will drive to minimise activities which are energy draining:

  • Minimising conflict – increasing risk of groupthink
  • Minimising uncertainty – increasing fear of change
  • Minimising conscious thought – increasing risk of human factor errors: lapses, mistakes, violations (normalisation of deviation)

They have developed senses to protect us against atavistic threats, as in the top image. This makes us reasonably good at protecting ourselves and colleagues from hazards which we can sense (see, hear, smell, touch, taste), but more susceptible to complex and ‘senseless’ Process Safety Risks.

So what to do? Progressive companies have recognised and addressed the mismatch between their PS drivers and those of their employees. Good exemplars include Shell, who encourage employees to lead by example and encourage external perspective as part of their annual Safety Day. And RasGas, who’s Operator Care Initiative empowers employees to tour the facility, be alert to anything out of the ordinary (applying their 6th sense) and act on that feeling. My own company, Process Safety Matters advocates the use of Safe Surprises, or on the spot audits, to mitigate against the normalisation of deviation and the identification of innovative ways to incentivise the discomfort of develop new and better PS habits - rewarding endeavour over success.

So in conclusion, when the going gets tough, the tough get emotional. And by intelligently channelling those emotions, the tough can keep on keeping on.

emotion trumps logic

Blog 16 - Stories of Fear and Desire: Increasing Emotional Traction in Process Safety 

 air nz

Those who work in the field and/or have experienced the aftermath of incidents, know that good Process Safety makes a difference. Piper Alpha widows and children, Louisiana fishermen, Bhopal residents. The list goes on. But what about the rest of us. The 99%. The vast majority. There is simply too much information out there, every bit jostling for our attention. Our brains have evolved to filter and triage information which is helpful to us and, to be grossly simplistic, its key tenets in this regard are Epicurean. We gravitate towards pleasure and away from pain.

Many purveyors of information have already cottoned onto this notion. Marketers are black belt Epicureans. It’s how they sell things to us. Fear and Desire. A sprinkle of one and a dash of the other and you can change the world. Try this little thought experiment. When was the last time you thought about safety? Any sort of safety. Got it. OK now consider when was the last time you thought about sex? Any sort of sex. See what I mean. Research has shown that, on average, 1 to 2 times per waking hour (Source: Journal of Sex Research, 2012). Air New Zealand, which were bold enough to exploit this tendency in a racy version of their in-flight safety video (from which the above image was extracted). The airline has an exemplary safety record (in top 10 of 400+ airlines worldwide - Source: Coincidence? Maybe, but the link to the actual video shows that safety and glamour can sometimes intersect to powerful effect:

Another good example is the marketing of butter, specifically Lurpak. The Danish company succeeded in making this most mundane of products memorable by generating excitement for cooking and food in a series of ads - the one which is viewable via the attached link actually makes the hairs rise up on the back of my neck.

When we do think about safety, it tends to be in relation to ourselves and our intimates. That’s fear rearing its head. People tend to develop and, for a time, sustain heightened vigilance to threats, when they perceive them as being real and immediate. You instinctively grab your child when they step out into a busy road. And you retain that sensibility when in the same situation for days and weeks afterwards, thus increasing that child’s safety. So how could we use this phenomenon in the context of Process Safety?

Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I was carrying out a HAZID/HAZOP closeout for an EPF (Early Production Facility - photo below) in Kurdistan. One of the actions was to validate the H2S alarm drill (H2S is a toxic gas, usually fatal at concentrations of 1000 ppm or 0.1%, which is often present in significant concentrations in well fluids). However the day before the drill was due to take place, there was an actual alert. As you can imagine, the site crew all rapidly responded in the correct manner. In the debrief afterwards, one the team leaders noted that the response was much more dynamic than the recent planned drill and joked that apparently the alert was due to a faulty reading on the instrument.’ Maybe we should contrive some pretend alerts to make our guys pay more attention’ he said. And I thought…..maybe we should.

So, by making Process Safety a bit more alluring and invigorating, we can make it more effective. And save more future lives.


Blog 15 - Harnessing Risk: You Won't Regret It

Lasso Horse.

Think of risk as a wild, untamed horse. Full of potential, but fraught with peril. If you attempt to capture it, you could benefit from its attribute as a mode of transport and gain a furry four legged friend. However, you could also be seriously injured, or worse in a failed attempt. So, good outcome and bad outcome. A binary choice. Actually, there is a third way - choosing not to take the action. It seems to me that this is the path most of us take for most things most of the time.

It is entirely possible to live your life by default. To follow the path of least resistance. To plump for easy short term dopamine hits rather than aiming for a goal with the risk of failure but promise of satisfaction. Choosing the conveyor belt instead of the stairway to heaven. Psychologist Walter Mischel carried out a seminal experiment in the late 1960s where he offered children, with an average age of 5, the choice between a marshmallow straight away or 2 marshmallows a short time later. He found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures. In other words, a more satisfying life.

We deal with risk every day of our lives. Every decision has an impact on our life’s progression. Many of those decisions involve the instant or delayed gratification which Mischel was probing. Shall I eat that cream cake or wait until I’ve done some exercise first; shall I stay in bed after a night on the tiles, or do I get up and engage with the day; shall I ignore that trip hazard because it’s the end of my shift and I’m tired or do I report it and prevent a colleague having an accident.

I would contend that a life well lived is achieved by making bold and considered decisions about the big as well as small things you come across. It may be that you think about taming the foal and decide that, as things stand, the risk of accident outweighs the potential benefit of succeeding. You may then decide to do some training to increase the odds of success. You may abandon the idea altogether and pursue other avenues (buying a cat for example). But at least you will have engaged with risk rather than being overwhelmed by it. Be thoughtfully bold today.

life well lived

Blog 14 - Life is Good (No Really)

Sunset Song.

Of the seminal literature from my cloistered adolescence, which included Lord of the Rings (I know) and Wilfred Owen poems, Sunset Song stood out. A tale about the harsh blossoming of a young woman, Chris Guthrie, in the Mearns (a region of Scotland south and inland from Aberdeen) exactly 100 years ago. So you can imagine my delight when I heard a film version was being created. I managed to discover the one cinema in London which was showing it and took myself there, juxtaposed between excitement and foreboding that the film wouldn’t do justice to my memory of the book.

I needn’t have worried - it was magnificent. The magical melding of the often stoic human personalities and eternal balm of the landscape was gloriously presented (allowing forgiveness for the fact that the above scene in which Chris meets her future husband Ewan in Stonehaven was actually filmed in nearby Fettercairn). One thing I had forgotten was how relentlessly tough life was for most people a mere century ago. Chris lived in a two room ‘But and Ben’ with her parents, siblings and assorted farm animals.

I am typing this in my air conditioned hotel room in Abu Dhabi (ahead of a 3 week HAZOP starting tomorrow) idly watching my multi-channelled cable TV, drinking mineral water from a plastic bottle, having been transported her by aircraft. None of which existed in Chris’ time. 100 years. The blinking of an evolutionary eye and most of us have gone from grinding poverty to air conditioned affluence. Yes indeed - life is good.

And yet, somehow, we still cling atavistically onto the vestiges of our checkered past. We scour the news media for depictions of pain (and pleasure) that some others are experiencing. We lean heavily on vicariousness, tieing our feelings to passing ships which we can’t influence and which are completely unaware of our existence. And yet, all around us, the advances of the last 100 years are invisible totems. I think it’s time to savour what we have and engage with the world around us in a way that would have made Chris Guthrie proud.

Life is Good

Blog 13 - What Price A Life?

baby money.

What price would you put on a life? Your life; your child’s life; your parent’s life, your friend’s life, the life of someone you’ve never met? I know it’s an uncomfortable question. One we’d rather not have to deal with. Anyway, isn’t life sacrosanct? Shouldn’t we all strive to adhere to the Hippocratic Oath?

The problem is that if we don’t put a price on a human life, we can’t determine how much money should be spent in preventing its loss. If a life is priceless, then, in theory the amount of money needed to protect that is infinite. And what about mortality? If we are born, we currently all have to die. So it would seem a responsible thing to agree a figure around which we can structure the risky business of conducting our everyday lives.

One thing we can do is to take the cost of raising a child into account when we start to procreate. The UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph estimated that it currently costs around £11 per year. To put it another way, the opportunity cost of not wearing a condom at the vital moment is around £220,000.

Another aspect is the value different institutions and organisations attribute to a life saved or life extended to decide which measures and interventions are justified. In the UK, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence applies the range of £20-30k per quality-adjusted life year when reviewing new drugs which purport to extend life and/or improve life quality. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency set the value of a human life at $9.1 million, while the Food and Drug Administration put it at $7.9 million — and for the Department of Transportation the figure was around $6 million. In these cases, this would be roughly the figure that these government entities would come chasing you for if you caused a death in their jurisdiction. This is in line with the impact of causing a death in the UK - a fatal accident on North Sea platform cost the company around £6m, in fines and deferment.

If this all sounds a little remote and unconnected with your everyday existence, what about the risk of the loss of life when you do something mundane like, say, making some toast. Even this routine domestic activity can harm and even kill. Let’s look at the stats:



Toaster is used

F - 365 time per year

Toast Burns

P1 - 0.1

Toaster fails to trip

P2 - 0.1

Person not present

P3 - 0.1

Smoke Alarm Fails

P4 - 0.01

Children fail to escape

P5 - 0.1

Frequency of Death by Toast

FxP1xP2xP3xP4xP5 = 3.65E-4 years

So, based on the assumed failure probabilities and use frequencies you have a greater than one in 2800 likelihood of causing a fatality each year when you prepare toast daily. Which is actually considerably more than your likelihood of being killed while driving to work having eaten said toast.

The Hydrocarbon Processing industry in which I work has an extremely good safety record. However, when things go wrong, due to the nature of the hazards (contained energy, flammable material, toxins), they can do so in a bad way. Even people outside the industry have heard of Piper Alpha, Texas City, Flixborough and Bhopal. But, as Adam Smith noted centuries ago, people’s wages reflect a tradeoff regarding “the ease or hardship, the cleanliness or dirtiness, the honorableness or dishonorableness of the employment.” The UK HSE work on the premise that the risk of death at work should never exceed 1E-4/yr and if it is still more that 1E-6/yr, then the ALARP (As Low As Reasonably Practicable) principle is applied. In this case, the facility owner has to be able to demonstrate, if asked, that the cost of additional safeguards would have been disproportionate or grossly disproportionate (depending on how close the risk of death of to the above thresholds) to the benefit gained.

So there you have it. As Process Safety Professionals, we work hard at ensuring that the residual risk that employees are exposed to when they work on our facilities is ALARP or less. After all, after a hard day’s work, we should all reasonably expect to be able to go home and get a hug on the doorstep.

daddy home

Blog 12 - Sheep in Sheep Clothing.


Have you seen the new Disney film Zootropolis yet? No! Then get yourself immediately, without delay, to your local multiplex, buy your ticket and sit in a state of heightened anticipation, waiting for the film to begin. I watched it yesterday in an auditorium filled with school holiday kids and their parents. And I was mesmerised. It’s essentially an animated cop buddy movie, starring Judy Hopps as a naive but heroic newcomer and Police Academy graduate and Nick Wilde and a cool but cynical local, who becomes her sidekick in the adventure. The film swoops and shimmers brilliantly, appealing equally to kids and adults, as it races (except for the scenes involving the sloths) towards its conclusion. And being Disney, there has to be a bit of a moral and at least one bad guy. I don’t think I’ll spoil it too much by revealing that the villain of the peace is………us.

By us, I don’t mean human beings (there are none in the film), but sheep. In fact, sheep in sheep clothing. You see, in the film, the sheep represent the pliable majority, for whom ‘the greatest fear is…….well anything that the media transmits which is, however remotely, threatening to us’. Status quo is everywhere and everything. No one has the slightest intention of standing up and being counted. And that, insidiously, allows really threats to go unchecked and opportunities bypassed. As Robin William’s character in Dead Poet’s Society implores his charges to overcome ‘the difficulty in maintaining your own beliefs in the face of others’.

The sinister risk we face daily is that of Group Think, where group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critically evaluating alternative viewpoints. The fear of being the lone voice, the minority report. In Psychological experiments, when all group members (confederates) except the last one, express an obviously wrong opinion (e.g. one line of several being the longest when it isn’t), the last member (experimentee) feels very conflicted and often agrees with the mob. Apparently we react in this way for a very good reason. For much of our evolution, exclusion from the group meant significantly increased risk and possible death (thus greatly reducing the chances of reproducing and propagating your genes). Consequently, we feel extremely uneasy when put in that position. That’s how radicalisation happens - small groups of your tribe all getting together and persuading themselves that it would be a good idea if you planted a bomb somewhere.

However, it only one of the above confederates expresses a contrary (and in this case correct) view, the experimentee is always emboldened to give the right answer. Always. And, fortunately, most of us are no longer in the position where we have to depend on the crowd for our protection. So you can change the world for the better, like Judy Hopps, one minority report at a time. Escape your fleece today.


Blog 11 - Stalking Your Senseless Killer.


Our 5 senses. Touch. Sight. Hearing. Smell. Taste. Miracles of Evolution, which have developed over eons to protect us so that we can reproduce and protect our offspring. And for the vast majority of our existence as a species, they have done just that. We can hear the roar of the lion; see the advancing Sabre Tooth Tiger; Smell rotting fruit; Feel the heat from a fire; Taste the bitterness of poisons. All well and good.


However, since we started to transform raw materials we have created previously non-existent hazards which our senses are unable, on their own, protect us against. Arguably, the first of these is one of the bi-products of fire - carbon monoxide. This invisible, odourless, tasteless gas is produced during incomplete combustion, and is generally fatal at concentrations of as little as 1% in air. This senseless killer lurks where fires are present in poorly ventilated enclosures, where the oxygen supply is limited. Wood burning stoves; Gas Fires; Portable Stoves; Faulty Furnaces. CO can emanate from all of these. And be completely undetected by our senses. And when it does, in the UK, it kills 40+ people a year.


So, we need to augment our senses with other products of raw material transformation to help prevent these senseless deaths. We have developed Carbon Monoxide Detectors, which are often located in the vicinity of some of the above producing equipment and alarm if thresholds are breached. They are able to do what our 5 senses can’t - protect us from a modern, potentially lethal threat.


In rather more recent times, we have created an Oil and Chemical Industry to produce useful products. The people who work in this industry are relatively safe. Statistically, you are less likely to die at work in a Chemical Plant than a Convenience Store. However, when things go wrong, they go wrong in a big way. You know the names of the Iconic Industry disasters: Bhopal, Piper Alpha, Deepwater Horizon, Texas City. And all of these events were also caused by a senseless killer - PSI or Process Safety Ignorance. I would argue that the trigger point or points and their associate hazards which ultimately led to the multiple fatalities which ensued, were undetected and indeed undetectable by our 5 senses. At Texas City for instance a series of equipment, procedures and human error breaches led to the release of large amounts of flammable hydrocarbons from a vent, which, upon encountering a source of ignition (a running car engine) ignited, killing 15 and injuring 260. Only when the release occurred was the hazard detectable by our senses - mere seconds from the explosion.


So what is the tool we can use to enhance our awareness of Process Safety Risk. That tool is something we all possess but don’t, in this case, always use optimally. It is the most complex thing in the known universe. It is your brain. We can use our brain - our conscious brain - to recognise the risks and significantly reduce them. Shell call it Chronic Unease. RasGas (an ExxonMobil JV) call it Operator Care. Whatever you call it, it is understanding what the senseless risks are, and being empowered to act on your feeling that they are present and need to be addressed. How do you pick up this skill? One way is to join one of the above companies. Another way is to join one of our Process Safety Management Fundamentals Training courses. Either way, we can keep our industry safer than, oh say, the next time you need to go to Tescos to pick up your weekly shopping.

operator care


Blog 10 - A World Without.....You.

London without People

How do you determine the importance of any individual, group, company? What is the ongoing impact and potential legacy of any one of these entities? One way may be to think about surgically removing that entity and imagining how the world would be without it.

You could choose a profession, for example. How about Chemical Engineers? Yes, let’s make that cluster disappear in a puff of logic. Gone. No longer able to contribute to society. No Henry Bessemer, inventor of the process for the cost effective mass production of steel. No Carl von Linde and William Hampson who gave us gas liquefaction and refrigeration. No Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, fathers of the industrial scale production of ammonia, a key precursor in modern fertilisers. No Jasper Kane and John McKeen, who scaled up penicillin production. No George Rosenkranz, Luis Miramontes, and Carl Djerassi, who together developed the contraceptive pill.

Essentially, Chemical Engineers transform raw materials into useful products. Without this skill, we would be left with…..raw materials. Back in the Stone Age the average life span was average life expectancy was estimated at just 20 – 35 years; in Sweden in the 1750s it was 36 years; it only hit 48 years by the 1900s in the USA. These increases are were driven by the progressive availability of the transformed raw materials which underpin modern life - steel, medicines, plastics, electricity generating equipment, fertilisers. I could go on.

You could also choose an individual. How about me? Let’s remove me from the global equation. How have things changed. For a start, neither of my sons would exist. None of my partners would have experienced our relationship. The 5 future lives may not have been saved by the Safety reviews I have chaired. The memory of the thousands of people I have interacted with in my 52 years would be, mostly slightly, altered. Impact.

I think we can best appreciate the contribution we make to others by undertaking this thought experiment. And once you’ve done it and you’re not happy with your conclusions…..then change something. You’ve got time. Just don’t leave it too long.


Blog 9 - How to Live in the (professional) Future.

21st of October 2015. An innocuous date you might think. You probably, without refering to your Outlook calander, can’t even remember anything about what you were doing on that day. I know I can’t. But in Hollywood parlance, its quite a signficant one. One of the most successful movie franchises in my lifetime is ‘Back to the Future’. The series of 3 films, which made $1bn at the box office, starred then teen idol Michael J Fox and revolved around the friendship between Michael’s character Marty, a nutty professor type and a time travelling car. In the first film, Marty went 30 years into past. In the second, he had to travel into the future to sort out some issue with his kids. The date he was transported to was….you’ve guessed it - 21/10/15.

So much, so fantasy you might say. And you’d be right. You can only live in the present (although an increasing number of us seem to be living in the past) not the future. But what if the future was just a reasonably predictable trajectory from the present? Of course, we can’t know if and when things will happen in the future but, a bit like predicting how many people will perish in the anticipated Istanbul earthquake, we can determine where and how likely future paradigms are, based on present relevant trends (in this case demographic - population and building regulation indicators and seismic - A 2000 Study suggested a >60% chance of experiencing a magnitude 7.0 earthquake by 2030).

So it seems people can choose to live in the past, present or likely future. Many of us will choose the former. Lets take Dave. Dave is a 45 year old refinery worker who has just been made redundant. Dave has a strong set of technical skills which relate, almost exclusively, to his ex employer. He has been reasonably comfortable during his time at the plant and made little effort to develop a professional network outside it. Consequently, he felt more than a little stranded when the axe fell. He sent out numerous CVs to agents and internet sites with scant return. He became disheartened, blaming the ‘new economy’ for his predicament. Eventually, he runs out of emotional energy and gives up. At 45.

You could also choose the middle option - the present. Lets take Nick. Nick works as a recruitment agent and is one of the people to whom Dave sent his CV before submerging. Unlike Dave, Nick has an exemplary professional network and sends Dave’s CV to the relevant parts of it. He doesn’t really care if Dave gets a job, or even an interview, because he has a pretty inexhaustible supply to alternative Daves. Some of them will be selected by Big Business and he’ll get his 10%. Nick works hard to cultivate and maintain his relationship with the changing demographic of Big Business. Not always easy, but essential to putting bread on the table, because they have the money. And how do they get the money? They produce things that the Daves are willing to pay money for and they often have excellent relations with Big Government, which reguates the landscape in which the Daves exist. So far so present.

So what about this attractive but seemingly ephemeral future option? What are the trends which will help us plot our path there. Well, for a start, Big Business is getting bigger. Why be content with being the largest fish in the pond, if you can swallow the next biggest and be even more dominant? After all, shareholders who, have increasingly loose bonds with their companies, insistantly clamour for rising quarterly returns. This leads to Big Business employing more of the electorate (and thus having the ability to fire them - people like Dave) which makes Big Government (especially those which have to be re-elected every 5 years) more amenable to their arguements. So, going forward, it looks like Big Business will be OK. Lets call it Bigger Business.

So where does this leave Dave and Nick? Well Dave’s situation will not be changed. Nick, on the other hand, has a problem in this future. Sure, he has strong llinks with BB, but as BB is under constant cost pressure so that the Shareholders are appeased, costs are increasingly under scrutiny. Another trend which comes into play here is the increasing democratisation of the internet. Anyone can make anyone else aware of them. No more 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon; introducing 2 Degrees of Angus Keddie. This enables BB to contract Angus Keddie to provide his services without having to pass through Mr 10%. It also allows Angus Keddie to identify parties which may be willing to pay him for the product of his skills and experience.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I present you with a probable version of the professional future. Bigger Buisness and Free Lancers (or focused clusters thereof). One or the other. No room for Dave. Or even Nick. And you won’t need a hoverboard to get there.

Blog 8 - Your Virtual Village.

Virtual Village

How many people do you know? Actually know? As in, you interact with them in a meaningful way. 10? 100? 1000? 10000? I’d guess it is somewhere between 100 and 1000. It is for me. It’s the size of a typical village. In fact, it’s your own virtual village. Exciting isn’t it. OK its not even a spec on the 7,000,000,000 people alive, but these are folks you can impact, affect, influence. And know that you make a difference.

So let’s take a look at you village. Like traditional villages, it will have a defined structure and context. There will be those that you like and those that you dislike (sometimes changing status on an extremely frequent basis). There will be those you are closer to and those whio are more remote. Some will want things from you, while others will be recipients of your benevolance. These are the people you can change (and who can change you). Powerful stuff.

So how do you make the best use of this newly acquired power (super power?) Firstly, by realising that it exists. You may not be able to have any real influence on whether your footie team (in my case Arbroath FC) win, or even whether the UK stays in or leaves the EU, but you can change the lives of those in your village. That’s dynamite.As good as it gets. And those of you, like me, who work in Process Safety, can use this super power to change the world for good. To make it a safer place.

But be careful. Your villagers will only change if they want to change. If they see and, crucially, feel, the benefit. If you want to improve Process Safety on your facility, or in fact influence any significant change in the behaviour of your villagers, you need to walk the talk. To increase the weighting of leading vs lagging indicators, you need to engage with your team and spend time with them walking round the plant to observe discordances. You need to celebrate near miss reporting. You need to authorise more spot audits and reward safe behaviour. You need to provide Process Safety Training. Only in this way can you tilt your team in the right direction. To influence them in a gratifying way.

How many people do you know? And how many of those can you influence for the better? Personally, I can think of few more statisfying accomplishments.

Village People

Blog 7 - Luck or Deep Pockets

Deep Pockets

I wonder if we’re on the brink of a wave of hydrocarbon processing industry disasters? I know, it sounds alarmist and uncomfortable. But I’m concerned. I’ve noticed several vectors, collaborated by industry insiders, which, when viewed as a collective, point in an ominous direction.

Firstly and most obviously, the dramatic and sustained drop in the price of crude (and to a lesser extent gas). It fell from over $100 / barrel in late 2014 to around $30 a year later. This has directly impacted the bottom line of those companies which produce these commodities. Secondly, for 3 years before the decline, the price was high and remarkably stable (at around $100 / barrel), which encouraged complacent investment in new capacity (presumably based on the assumption that the price would remain at those levels……for ever?). Thirdly, companies are valiently (blindly?, stubornly?, fearfully?) paying the same dividends to it’s shareholders (case in point BP - recently announcing a $6bn loss while maintaining it’s dividend).

This means that not only is there less cash available for new projects (which started drying up a year ago) but also, now, for essential operating and maintenance spending. How is this impasse resolved? One way would be to convince yourself that equipment working life can be extended (Arbitrarily? Based on different information from the manufacturer?) This magically allows you to extend the period between interventions thus saving the cash which you have just distributed to shareholders. Job done. Or is it?

All that really does, it seems to me, is increase the frequency of leading (if you record them) and lagging Process Safety indicators. As your equipment / component starts to wear out, the likelihood of catastrophic failure increases. And as we all know, there is a robust correlation between the frrequency of leading / lagging indicators / near misses and damage / injury / fatality. The more of the former you have, the greater your likelihood of experiencing the latter. Its really just a metter of time - or perhaps luck. And if luck is not on your side (your hold on it becoming increasingly tenuous as time goes on) and you have a major incident, then deep pockets are really the only answer.

30 years ago a company called Union Carbide experienced the world’s worst industrial disaster at their pesticides facility at Bhopal in India. There were several contributory causes for the catastrophy which led to the release of a toxic chemical to the environment, resulting in many thousands of deaths in the local population. One of them, I understand, was the decision to turn off the scrubbing system, which was designed to act as a barrier to prevent such a release, had been turned off to save operating expense. Consequently, Union Carbide ran out of luck and found their pockets insufficiently deep. The company no longer exists.

So you have a choice. Either you could choose to maintain the status quo and, if the oil price continues to languish, your ability to avoid a Process Safety disaster increasingly depends on luck or deep pockets. Or you could choose, as several of my clients have done, to make a maintain your maintenance budget and be brave enough to have that ‘difficult’ conversation with your shareholders. Choose wisely.

Woman Luck

Blog 6 - Chemical Engineer.....Superhero

Judge Doom

If you could have a super power, what would it be? Perhaps flying? Maybe seeing through walls? How about transforming raw materials into useful products? Sounds good doesn’t it. Except it isn’t a super power. It’s what Chemical Engineers do every day

Part of the Wikipedia definition of chemical engineers is that they ‘design large-scale processes that convert chemicals, raw materials, living cells, microorganisms and energy into useful forms and products. Raw Materials to Useful Products. This seems to be saying, if you remove Chemical Engineers from the world, you’d mostly be left with Raw Materials. Not an enticing prospect.

So you’d think that the public would appreciate us. After all, we’re working tirelessly to ensure that they have a ready supply of Useful Products - Cars and the petrol which power them, Mobile Phones, All Processed Foods, Plastic Bags, Buildings, Light bulbs. A kind of Magician.

However, this is far from the reality. Films, which are a useful metric of public perception, tend to cast our industry in a poor light. Remember evil Judge Doom from the 1989 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, destroying ‘toons in open barrels full of toxic chemicals. Chemistry fends somewhat better, but we both languish behind the Electronic, Food and Pharmaceutical Industry, according to a CEFIC Pan European Survey.

So how do we turn this around? I think it starts by standing tall and speaking out. I was at an excellent IChemE event earlier this week in London which invited us to do just that.

The interactive evening explored how the IChemE community can pro-actively raise the profile of chemical engineering in the media. The event also provided insight and a topical discussion on the following: 

•           How do reporters tackle science and engineering stories?

•           What topics are the most newsworthy right now?

•           What can you do to improve the perception of chemical engineers in the media?

•           How can you make the biggest noise about your profession?

•           Why is this important?

There was an interesting and fulsome debate, which suggested that while some progress has been made in improving the standing of Chemical Engineering in society, more could be done. I found it particularly troubling that, the media seemed unable to source a chemical engineer to talk about the recent start up of the Shetland Gas Plant, the UK’s biggest infrastructure project since the 2012 Olympics, which will supply 2 million UK homes.

We can make a difference, but only if you are prepared to make a difference. Talk positively about Chemical Engineering achievements; gently rebut misconceptions when you hear them; humorously take issue with jokes which debase our industry. I intend to start standing tall. Will you? In a small way, we can all become superheroes. Iron Man anyone?

Iron Man

Blog 5 - Future Lives Saved

Tom Cruise

Do you remember the 2002 film Minority Report. An American tech-noir mystery-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise. It is set in Washington DC in 2054, where Cruise plays a chief of the PreCrime unit, John Anderton, whose job it is to foresee and prevent murder before it actually happens. Saving future lives, if you will. As with all such films, I remember leaving my disbelief at the door of the cinema and, as a result, thoroughly enjoyed the movie, Because, of course, saving future lives isn’t something that can happen…..or is it?

I’ve been preparing for, chairing and closing out Process Hazard Assessments for the past five years. Of the 60+ reviews which I have led, around 40+ were HAZOPs (Hazard and Operability Studies). The purpose of HAZOPs is generally to identify hazards in a processing facility and reduce their associated consequences to an acceptable level (generally taken as ALARP - As Low As Reasonably Practicable). Each action taken usually reduces the likelihood that an undesirable consequence occurs (1 in 100 years to 1 in 1000 years) or the severity of that consequence (death to serious injury). Accordingly it should be possible (at least in a theoretical sense) to estimate the number of future lives saved by implementing the actions generated by these HAZOPs. And this is what I did.

My calculation was on the following criteria:

  • 40 HAZOPs led
  • Each HAZOP generates on average 20 actions
  • Each action results in the risk reduction coalescence falling, in terms of Likelihood/Severity, from Somewhat Likely/Injury to Unlikely/Injury
  • All actions have an impact which decays to zero over five years and applying the accident triangle ratios of 10 injuries being equivalent to 1 death

I estimate that reckon the teams I have saved 5 future lives (……plus or minus 2).

If nothing else, it allows me to present myself as a taller, better looking and, crucially, real life version of Tom Cruise’s Minority Report character at dinner parties. 

Dinner Party

Blog 4 - HAZOP Chair Selection: Following the Uber Model?

I recently spent an enjoyable weekend in London with my partner. We stayed in a smart hotel, which was mostly funded by the nights I accumulated during the long winter nights in Aberdeen last year, where I was chairing the Shell Curlew FPSO reHAZOP. We ate well, caught up with family and friends and discovered the delights of being driven around town by Uber.

I had been a bit reluctant to actually press the activation button on the app which I had downloaded some time previously. However, from the moment I took the plunge (@22.06 on Saturday the 23rd of January 2016), I was more than pleasantly surprised. I almost immediately received a notification giving the name of my driver, his vehicle registration and estimated arrival time. When Shahid arrived in his Mercedes-Benz C Class, he was courteous and informative. We were back at our hotel in a jiffy. The following day, we ordered 2 more, with similar results.

One of the things which differentiate Uber from other, conventional, taxi firms, is that both you and the driver are invited to rate each other. I gave Shahid 5 stars (out of 5) and the same for Aatif. I decided only to give Abdul a 4, as he initially tried to drop us of near, as opposed to outside, Waterloo Station. This got me to thinking - what if we applied the same approach to selecting a HAZOP chair?

As we all know, things continue to be very challenging in the Oil and Gas Industry. With the price per barrel hovering around the $30 mark, operators are rightly being extremely judicious about investment decisions. For the projects which are approved (Pre-FEED, FEED, EPC etc), a very rigorous cost control approach will be applied. Although we like to think that Process Safety should be immune to the strictures of cost and schedule, we are in the business of Risk Optimisation rather than Risk Elimination. Accordingly, a good HAZOP chair will not only be able to demonstrate appropriate and robust technical knowledge, but the ability to manage the process in an efficient and diligent manner, to ensure that the key residual risks are capped at ALARP, while the review costs are minimised.

I’m sure I’m not alone among fellow chairs in requesting feedback from my team members at the end of the HAZOP process. But what about Uberising the process by not only enabling those members to review you in a public forum (based on standard criteria such as timekeeping, control of meeting, technical knowledge, keeping to the brief, ensuring all contribute, professionalism, preparation, quality of follow up report, flexibility, flow of the meeting, listening to requirements/expectations etc) and, conversely, reviewing them on their performance as a team member (Introvert/Extrovert, Proactive/Reactive, Relevant Technical Knowledge, Level of Engagement, Placid/Assertive/Aggressive, Degree of Team Nurturing, Level of English)

As with Uber, I feel that we could make the HAZOP process as efficient and effective as possible, by incentivising everyone involved to continually improve the service they are offering. And let’s not forget, Uber has a valuation of $40bn, so they must be doing something right. 

Blog 3: PSM Fundamentals. 1 month payback.....Really?

I know what you might be thinking…..this guy’s got to be kidding, right? Everyone knows that while PSM Training is one of the leading indicators which prevent you landing on the Accident Triangle, from where you’ve got nowhere to go except up (towards damage, injury and fatality). I get that. But the problem has been that the cost of PSM Training is very quantifiable, while the benefit is nebulous. After all, you can’t do a Controlled Experiment on seeing the impact on outcomes before and after carrying out PSM on a workforce.

Or can you?

My client, which owns and runs a major HC processing facility, has done exactly that. And is cautiously encouraged by the results. They commissioned me to prepare a customised PSM Fundamentals Training course for their front line supervisors. I ran this course in August 2015. The supervisors were then encouraged to informally disseminate the knowledge gained to their teams. Ahead of the course, they designed a leading indicator ‘spot check’ audit program, by which they were able to measure compliance with good PSM behaviour. The audit looked at level of compliance with procedures (especially during Abnormal Operations), degree of empowerment response (indicated by level of unsolicited reporting during TBTs) and willingness to act autonomously when deviation occurred. They then repeated the repeated the process in December 2015 (which was deemed to be a sufficient ‘bedding in’ period for the information communicated).

And the results?

The 2nd audit indicated a 27% improvement in the PSM behavioural metrics. My client, which has an excellent safety record when measured in terms of TRIR, felt that it’s level to LOPC events was unacceptable (leading to around 1.3% of uptime). Typically, they were experiencing 1 major unplanned SD, of average 2 day duration, due to PS deviations per train per year. Now I hope you can see where we’re going with this. We are now finally able to quantify the benefit of PSM Training, based a set of technical and financial figures:



  • TR4 Incident caused 2 day Production SD
  • Client income $6bn / year
  • TR4 is one of 5 identical trains
  • All trains run for av 350 days per year
  • 1 suite of PSMF Training is for 4 x 2 days x 15 supervisors
  • Benefit of Training is that frequency of TR4 type incident falls from 1 / year to 3 / 4 years



  • 4 sets of 2 day training for 15 supervisors (cost of additional salary)
    • 4 x 2 days x 15 x $100k / 200 days
    • $60k
  • Cost of Running / Hosting courses
    • 4 x 2 x $10k / per training day
    • $80k
  • Total PSMF Cost
    • $140k


PSMF Benefit

  • TR4 down for 2 days
  • Lost production value
    • 2 x $6,000k / (5 x 350)
    • $6,857k
  • Before PSMF – TR4 type incident happens 1 / year
  • After PSMF – TR4 type incidents happens 3 / 4 years
  • PSMF Benefit
    • $6,857k / 4 = $1,714k per year
  • PSMF Payback - $140k x 12 / $1,714k
    • 0.98 months



Blog 2- HAZOP Facilitator Styles


Each time I chair a new HAZOP, I'm fascinated by the unique dynamic that is present between the team members. The team can vary in many different ways: size, company representation, technical knowledge, age, sex, personality, mood. This means that each review is essentially new for the participants and facilitator, even if the plant or technology is similar or even identical to one carried out previously. Consequently, I believe it is important that the facilitator takes these elements into account so as to create a relaxed and productive environment in a new review.

I employ a number of tactics in this regard. Firstly, I always prepare an introductory slide show to set out the key tenets of the review. These will include a basic process description, an overview of the methodology, potential key issues/hazards, review dos and don'ts and a worked example. This gets everyone aligned and motivated for the task in hand. Secondly, I attempt to engage all members of the team early in the process, usually by inviting them to provide examples of causes or consequences. I believe this dialogue will prompt ongoing interaction, which in turn will make the participants feel fully involved with the review. As the old Chinese proverb says: 'Tell me something and I'll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.' Thirdly, I aim to turn participant's passion for the subject onto the problem and not other team members. Technical experts are understandably excited about developing the optimal technical solution for a facility, but this should not be at the expense of the feelings of other team members. I will always attempt to diffuse potential upsets within the team and have called for a short break when things became heated. In the extreme, I have heard of cases where difficult team members have been removed from the process, but hopefully the situation can be resolved before relationships break down to this extent.

So in summary, I believe that a safety review will be most successful when the team is relaxed, aligned and fully involved. And as a fringe benefit, it will make your job as facilitator much easier.

Blog 1 - Strategies and Tactics for Long HAZOPs

I have recently been contracted to chair a 13 week HAZOP. Although delighted to have won this work, I was a little daunted by the duration (having only managed a max of 3 weeks) and so decided to consult with some of my peers to see how they had managed to maintain motivation and interest over a longer timeframe.

The key element that was consistently mentioned was to limit the time the team is active to 6 hours a day and 4 days a week. This prevents burnout and exhaustion within the team (not least of those being the chair and scribe!), allows the team to give at least a partial focus to their day jobs and finally enables the chair to keep up to date with the HAZOP admin (interim report writing, node definition etc). It is also important to have regular breaks during the day.

Other tactics include giving some or all of the team members some type of responsibility (Managing Cause & Effects, Describing the Process for each node etc), the presentation of Safety Moments which can reinforce why we are doing the HAZOP in the first place, and considering swapping out team members to refresh input.

It's also important to remember that HAZOP is a very intense social activity, where human behaviour always rises to the top. Try to engage all the team members during the course of the day or you risk alienation and apathy. Use unscheduled breaks to diffuse any incipient conflicts. Encourage and show appreciation for positive contributions. Organise informal social events in the evenings.

And finally, don't forget to buy the best biscuits!