Hazards: learning from experience

New industries continue to emerge and develop, bringing with them new hazards. These can generate unforeseen safety risks and environmental impacts, as new technology introduces new ways of causing failures. Organisations also still fail to address even the foreseeable risks, as the lessons from many of the accidents experienced in more established industries are not learnt. It is important that we improve our understanding of all these risks, in areas such as nanotechnology, food technology, clean coal power supply, oil sands, next generation biofuels, renewable energy, nuclear power and decommissioning, and LNG supply.

The text above is part of the introduction to the IChemE “Hazards XXI” – Process safety and environmental protection symposium, scheduled for 9-12 November this year (Link). Last week IChemE advised that it will be publishing the out-of-print HSE accident reports on-line, so that we do not forget the lessons from such accidents as the Grangemouth BP Oil Refinery fires and explosion (1987), the explosion and fires at the Texaco refinery, Milford Haven (1994) and the Abbeystead water pumping station explosion (1994). Many plants, still operating today, pre-date the technology and knowledge in use when these accidents happened.

It is important that such reports are made easily available for the current generation of designers to be aware of history, and learn from the harshest of our experiences. In the USA the CSB (Chemical Safety Board: (Link)) is striving to publicise the findings of its accident investigations. The CSB approach (in contrast to that of the HSE in the UK, where their reports are apparently ‘out-of-print’) is to spend money and produce brilliant animations on video (available free of charge) to show just how simply the accidents they investigate happened, and therefore could have been prevented. The overall message I found from these is that good housekeeping is critically important on any process plant. One consistent example quoted is the failure of a tank high level alarm. This is obviously not seen as “sufficient reason to shut the plant down” by busy production staff: but so often the lack of attention to repairing such an alarm is symptomatic that there are other plant problems, and this leads to an event that automatically shuts operations off, permanently. Safety alarms (high level alarms) need to be able to operate automatically, just as experiences gained from accident reports need to be published and available.

Hima-Sella report that they have completed the design and installation of its first TOPS solution (Tank Overfill Protection System) for the Mayflower oil terminals in Plymouth, and presented TOPS at the recent Tank Storage Association (TSA) conference in Coventry. So if your new process and tank storage systems designers missed the Coventry meeting, as I did, maybe a trip to Manchester in November would be useful.

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