Wishing you a very Happy Christmas
Here are my ‘reflections’ from 2019 based on my work with clients and other things that cropped up in the year that made me think about what we are doing in process safety and human factors.  As always, these are in no particular order.

Control room design
The great news is that the new, 3rd edition of EEMUA 201 was published this year. It has been given the title “Control Rooms: A Guide to their Specification, Design, Commission and Operation.” I was the lead author of this rewrite, and it was fascinating for me to have the opportunity to delve deeper into issues around control room design; especially where theory does not match the feedback from control room operators.
I would love to be able to send you all a copy of the updated guide but unfortunately it is a paid for publication (free for some members of EEMUA members). However, I have just had a paper published in The Chemical Engineer describing the guide and this is available to download free at https://www.thechemicalengineer.com/features/changing-rooms.
Now it has been published my advice about how to use the updated guide is as follows:

  • If you are planning a new control room or upgrading or significantly changing an existing one you should be using the template Human Factors Integration Plan that is included as Appendix 1. This will ensure you consider the important human factors and follow current good practice;
  • If you have any form of control room and operate a major hazard facility you should conduct a review using the checklist that is included as Appendix 2. This will allow you to identify any gaps you may have between your current design and latest good practice.

If you have any comments or questions about the updated guide please let me know.

Quantifying human reliability
It has been a bit of surprise to me that human reliability quantification has cropped up a few times this year. I had thought that there was a general consensus that it was not a very useful thing to attempt
One of the things that has prompted discussions has come from the HSE’s guidance for assessors, which includes a short section that starts “When quantitative human reliability assessment (QHRA) is used…”. This has been interpreted by some people to mean that quantification is an expectation. My understanding is that this is not the case, but in the recognition that it still happens HSE have included this guidance to make sure any attempts to quantify human reliability are based on very solid task analyses;
My experience is that a good quality task and human error (qualitative) analysis provides all the information required to determine whether the human factors risks are As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP). This means there is no added value in trying to quantify human reliability and the effort it requires can be counter-productive, particularly as applicable data is sparse (non-existent). Maybe the problem is that task analysis is not considered to be particularly exciting or sexy? Also, I think that a failure to fully grasp the concept of ALARP could be behind the problem.
My view is that demonstrating risks are ALARP requires the following two questions to be answered:

  1. What more can be done to reduce risks further?
  2. Why have these things not been done?

Maybe the simplicity of this approach is putting people off and they relish the idea of using quantification to conduct some more ‘sophisticated’ cost benefit analyses. But I really do believe that sticking to simple approaches is far more effective.
Another thing that has prompted discussions about quantification is that some process safety studies (particularly LOPA) include look-up tables of generic human reliability data. People feel compelled to use these to complete their assessment.
I see the use in other process safety studies (e.g. LOPA) as a different issue to stand alone human reliability quantification. There does seem to be some value in using some conservative figures (typically a human error rate of 0.1) to allow the human contribution to scenarios to be considered. If the results achieved do not appear sensible a higher human reliability figure can be used to determine how sensitive the system is to human actions.
It is possible to conclude that the most sensible approach to managing risks is to place higher reliance on the human contribution. If this is the case it is then necessary to conduct a formal and detailed task analysis to justify this; and to fully optimise Performance Influencing Factors (PIF) to ensure that this will be achieved in practice.
It is certainly worth looking through your LOPA studies to see what figures have been used for human reliability and whether sensible decisions have been made. You may find you have quite a lot of human factors work to do!

Maintaining bursting discs and pressure safety valves
I am pleased to say that my paper titled “Maintenance of bursting disks and pressure safety valves - it’s more complicated than you think.” Was published in the Loss Prevention Bulletin in 2019. It highlights that these devices are often our last line of defence but we have minimal opportunities to test them in situ and so have to trust they will operate when required. However, there are many errors that can occur during maintenance, transport, storage and installation that can affect their reliability. http://abrisk.co.uk/papers/2019 LPB266_pg06 Bursting discs and pressure safety valves.pdf
Unfortunately I have still not written my next paper in the series, which will be on testing of Safety Instrumented Systems (SIS). It is clear to me that often the testing that takes place is not actually proving reliability of the system. Perhaps I will manage it in 2020.
However, I did have another paper published in The Chemical Engineer. It is actually a reprint of a paper published in Loss Prevention Bulletin in 2013, so many of you have seen it before. It is about process isolations being more complicated than you think. I know this is still a very relevant subject. http://abrisk.co.uk/papers/2019 TCE Degrees of separation.pdf

Inherent Safety
I have been aware of the general concept of Inherent Safety for a long time, with Trevor Kletz’s statement “what you don’t have can’t leak” explaining the main idea so clearly. However, I have looked a bit more deeply into the concept in recent months and am now realising it is not as simple as I thought.
One thing that I now understand is that an inherently safe solution is not always the safest option when all risks are taken into account. The problem is that it often results in risk being transferred rather than eliminated; resulting in arrangements that are more difficult to understand and control.
I am still sure that inherent safety is very important but maybe it is not thought about carefully enough. The problem seems to be a lack of tools and techniques. I am aware that it is often part of formal evaluations of projects at the early Concept stage (e.g. Hazard Study 0) but I see little evidence of it at later stages of projects or during operations and maintenance.
I have a couple of things going on at the moment where I am hoping we will develop the ideas about inherent safety a bit. They are:

  1. I am part of a small team writing a book - a Trevor Kletz compendium. We are aiming to introduce a new audience to his work and remind others who may not have looked at it for a while that much of it is still very relevant. A second, equally important aim is to review some of Trevor’s ideas in a current context (including inherent safety) and to use recent incidents to illustrate why they still so important. We hope to publish late 2020, so watch this space.
  2. I am currently working on a paper for Hazards 30 with a client on quite an ambitious topic. It will be titled “Putting ‘Reasonably Practicable’ into managing process safety risks in the real world.” Inherent safety is an integral part of the approach we are working on.

I hope you enjoy reading my reflections of 2019 and that you have a happy and healthy 2020.