Process safety webcast answers questions about best practices, anatomy of an incident

Process safety tutorial: Questions and answers follow related from a recent webcast, “Anatomy of an Incident: Safety Best Practices from Lessons Learned.” Luis Durán from ABB answered additional audience questions here to help improve safety culture and lower risk of plant incidents and accidents using recognized engineering best practices, design and implementation, operations or maintenance, and technology developments.


Additional answers are provided below about how to avoid industrial process incidents and accidents. Questions came from the webcast audience for "Anatomy of an Incident: Safety Best Practices from Lessons Learned," an archived May 7 webcast. Like the webcast, these answers help to improve the safety culture and lower the risk of plant incidents and accidents, while evaluating how recognized engineering best practices, design, implementation, operations or maintenance, and technology developments can align and contribute to the avoidance of similar incidents in the future.

The answers below are provided by Luis Durán, product marketing manager safety systems, ABB Process Automation Control Technologies. Use this knowledge to build a safer community, to develop proactive measures to ensure that failures do not occur, and to avoid potential catastrophes. Lessons learned cover contributing factors, instrumentation, maintenance practices, economic, and human factors. 

Q: How can we make safety motivating?

A: I read a couple of signs that could be a good place to start:

  • Safety will take you back home
  • Safety depends on you.

Beyond that we must understand the consequence of our actions, from distracted driving to work-related activities. Human life can't be taken for granted, and that should motivate us to try our best. If that isn't enough, we should remember: "If you think safety is expensive, you should try an accident."

Q: Who should be involved in a risk assessment?

A: Risk assessments should be a multidisciplinary activity; there are contributions from process engineers, control engineers, operators, and maintenance. It can't be the facilitator and the process engineer or the process control engineer isolated from the rest.

Q: How do you implement and manage change around safety systems?

A: Follow guidelines and regulations from industry functional safety standards and industry process safety management information. There are technologies available in the market that make the process simple by offering functionality to track changes, control changes, and provide an auditable trail. Some features should include access control and role and user definitions.

Q: How can a company keep up with changing safety standards?

A: There may have been a notion that the safety automation sector wasn't changing, but that is not true. As the industry learns from incidents and accidents, new practices are incorporated to existing standards, and that should trigger a review of potential gaps. Industry associations, such as the International Society of Automation (ISA), conduct regular training sessions on standards. Many groups offer updates after the new standards are published.

Q: Do you recommend segregation of safety systems from protective systems?

A: I prefer functional independence, but the degree of segregation will depend on the risk assessment and the risk reduction scheme in the plant.

Q: Is the DCS the last barrier to an incident?

A: Typically the distributed control system (DCS) is not the last barrier to an incident. The DCS should keep the process running under the designed conditions in a productive and safe manner. If something deviates, alarms should trigger operator action, and if the problem isn't resolved, then automatic safety systems should restore conditions, leading, eventually, several layers up to community response (such as shelter in place).

Q: How frequently should S/D systems be tested? How deep should online S/D system testing go?

A: The frequency of shutdown (S/D) testing depends on several factors that include the risk-reduction target for a given safety function, the type of service, and the type of process. There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer, and this should be discussed during the risk assessment. A maintenance and test procedure should be defined during the safety lifecycle planning, and the depth of the test will depend on component technical data, vendor recommendation, and experience in the field.

Q: What should we do if the company does not want to do risk assessments?

A: It remains the user's responsibility to provide a safe work environment and to apply industry best practices as functional safety standards. I suggest the following:

  • Start by explaining the value and importance of having a proper risk assessment
  • Follow up with the economic advantages
  • Illustrate the best practices in the industry peer companies
  • Sometimes it is like speeding or distracted driving: Someone had to issue the ticket to get you back to thinking about how to prevent another.

Q: Will EP 13650 have a significant impact to changes of regulations by requiring inherently safer technologies and inherently safer design?

A: Typically there isn't a silver bullet. EP 13650 and other methods to improve safety from the design will contribute to make the process safer, but it might not remove all risk in the facility.

Q: When you have a lax regulation system, who do you persuade in industry to include properly designed hazard evaluation and safety procedures into operations? Moreover, how can we change the production-focused culture into a more safety-focused culture?

A: Culture change is not easy. There must be motivation to change. It is not always the regulation; sometimes, it is the moral or social responsibility of the plant operator. For others it is the economic gain of safe and productive operations.

Luis Durán is product marketing manager safety systems, ABB Process Automation Control Technologies. Courtesy: ABBQ: Shouldn't systems be designed for ease of use, robustness, and related factors, so that training of personnel is not as critical?

A: Systems' ease of use have improved significantly and will continue to improve, but regardless of how intuitive or user friendly a system can be, the user should know how to use it, why to use it, and the best way to accomplish the job. With safety, there is competence that is not product-specific, and there is a significant degree of critical experience in industry and applications.

- Luis Durán is product marketing manager safety systems, ABB Process Automation Control Technologies; edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering,

ONLINE extra

View the related May 7 webcast — A PDF of the presentation is available for download: "Anatomy of an Incident: Safety Best Practices from Lessons Learned," with ABB Safety Expert Luis Durán and Industrial Safety and Security Source Founder Greg Hale.

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