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Remote hazard studies: strategies for success

Kris Ellenthorpe Principal Consultant
Kris Ellenthorpe

Kris is a process safety consultant specialising in the quantification of risk from both process safety and environmental perspectives. He has written technical reports for clients in the Oil & Gas and Warehousing industries with particular emphasis on quantified risk assessments for COMAH Safety Reports. Kris has significant experience in the use of a range of Process Safety techniques, including HAZOP, PHA, LOPA, OBRA, HFA, PSPI’s and has lead numerous meetings with the Competent Authority on COMAH strategic subjects including DSEAR, Process Safety, Functional Safety and Human Factors.

The recent global pandemic has changed how we all work in practice, and we have had to adapt to the “new normal” way of working.

In the hazardous process industries, there are regulatory obligations that businesses are required to comply with in order to operate safely, and over the past 18 months we have been working with our clients to ensure that whilst working remotely, essential studies such as Hazard Identification (HAZID), Hazard and Operability (HAZOP), Layers of Protection Analysis (LOPA) and Human Reliability Analysis (HRA) have continued to run successfully.

Most risk assessment studies would usually require teams of people to be together in person to collectively review key process safety documents such as P&IDs, layout drawings, plot plans, materials safety data sheets, control philosophies and critical procedures.

In this article we highlight some of the key success strategies that we have found to be beneficial when undertaking these types of studies remotely.

Preparedness

When conducting Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment studies it is essential that all of the attendees have access to the required documentation in advance, such as those listed above. Everyone attending should also be aware of the expectations of themselves, and what input will be required from them during the study.

Technology

Technology plays a crucial part in conducting remote studies, so it is vital that the technology being used is reliable. Losing connection part way through, especially if this occurs several times, can cause frustration and lose the teams flow.

To overcome such aspects, we have found the following useful:

  • Use a standard conference dial in for audio – this allows participants to talk and resolve problems if connectivity is lost.
  • Encourage participants to ensure all scheduled computer updates have been performed before the study or delayed until afterwards.
  • Although obvious – test runs beforehand.

Team dynamics

Most HAZOP leaders would testify that the ability to understand team dynamics and “manage the room” is almost as important as the technique itself – observing reactions, detecting disagreement, and nurturing discussions are key to the facilitation process. We have all been there when we have needed to interject to halt side conversations and dissuade those attending from re-designing the plant or process. However, from our experience, managing such aspects remotely has proved to be surprisingly simple, setting aside pre-conceptions. In contrast, some surprising benefits were observed, including:

  • Technology effectively restricts others from talking over people with much more pausing to allow others to speak.
  • Side conversations were either not conducted or were muted in a manner which did not disrupt the group.
  • No ability for people to attempt to modify the P&ID or sketch in proposed new designs.
  • Information sharing was rapid and in real time. Screen sharing allowed for change of control to allow participants to show documents and communicate concepts easily.

While we cannot truly know that everyone is fully engaged, the use of skilful questioning, allowing long uncomfortable pauses and offering up more frequent breaks are useful in reducing the effects of this.

We often struggle trying to align all relevant parties within a single room to conduct a HAZOP, with the added complication of getting relevant people from SHEQ, Operations, Engineering, Maintenance and subject matter experts all together at the same time. And when we do manage this task, many best laid plans are ruined by last-minute problems or urgent tasks.

From this perspective, remote studies offer undoubted benefits brought about by almost unlimited flexibility. Rather than attempting to fill the day with a HAZOP for deemed efficiency or cost reasons, studies can be performed in bite sized chunks, and hence be potentially more productive. Casual observers or those who want to experience the HAZOP for personal development reasons can dial in without affecting the whole group, while incredibly busy people can be available remotely so that they can contribute where necessary. Should a HAZOP require the expertise of a third-party supplier of a packaged supply based in Switzerland there would normally be a need to fly them in.  However, this is not a problem remotely, where they can be fitted seamlessly into the proceedings of the day, when required.

All of the above benefits provide access to the right people, more quickly and in a manner which removes the costs associated with travel, expenses and delays of projects, as studies are pushed back to accommodate calendars. One area of concern would be the potential to omit plant operators or maintenance staff from remote studies and it is essential that HAZOP leaders ensure that no such failings occur.

There are still some potential negative effects which require understanding and managing so that the most can be made of remote studies. There would be valid concerns about whether progress within the study would offset any time or economic benefits obtained. Experience would suggest this is not the case and studies have appeared to have progressed effectively on a node / line per day basis. As further experience is gained, it is worthwhile assessing such productivity to look for trends regarding which types of studies progress efficiently or otherwise.

If you have a requirement to undertake a Hazard Identification or Risk Assessment study, contact our team today to discuss your requirements.

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