When performing a process hazard analysis (PHA), often people of different positions and specializations are gathered in the meeting room to assess the chosen process on its safety and ability to safeguard against inherent hazards. These groups can include personnel from maintenance, operations, engineering, HS&E (Health, Safety, and Environmental), and management. This diversity of thought in the PHA can be crucial in identifying less obvious risks; however, more importantly, it helps create a ring of accountability that covers every employee at the plant, both present in the PHA and not. All branches of the plant are able to voice their opinions on what hazards need to be addressed and potential safeguards or inherently safer design that could reduce or eliminate the risk.
Most groan when they learn they will be participating in a PHA, primarily because the plant does not stop operating while they attend the week-long meetings. Working double duty, they are still responsible for their normal day-to-day, as well as having to participate in the tedious and monotonous discussions that can occur in hazard analysis. From this perspective, it is easy to overlook the importance of the PHA and its critical safety impacts should an unforeseen risk be discovered and remedied. Accountability is important in every risk assessment. Individuals who are not in the room depend on PHA participants to voice their concerns and opinions. They are trusting that their processes are adequately protected.
Chemical companies in the United States often stress that “safety is our primary goal”; however, to witness many company’s preparation and participation in hazard analyses can be eye-opening. Is the PHA a primary focus for everyone in the room or does the sentiment “just another obligation that puts me further behind on my work” seem to be the overriding theme? Holding each person in the room accountable for PHA findings and the recommendations associated with them make for a safer work environment. All should be involved in group discussions to ensure that all ideas can be expressed. Every member of the PHA team has a purpose, and if they are distracted and/or disinterested in the discussions, valuable contributions could be missed.
Often, P&ID errors and missing design information, including pump deadhead pressures, relief device sizing calculations, and other process safety information (PSI) can pose an undue risk. For example, if a relief device is undersized, the potential risk it creates for plant employees can be overlooked. More times than not, these issues are overlooked simply because they are not deemed important, they are too time-consuming, or they are too expensive to fix. In order to truly claim that “safety is our primary goal”, each employee at the company must be willing to go the extra mile to identify these kinds of mistakes and correct them. No one should assume that someone else will see the same mistake and act to correct it. Part of increasing employee safety is in identifying and ensuring that the issue is appropriately addressed. This is a primary objective of PHAs. Speaking up when you notice something incorrect is critical, even if it seems minute and unimportant.
Before complaining about having to do yet another hazard analysis on a system that has had little to no change since the previous PHA, remember the trust that the operators, managers, maintenance techs, and engineers have in you. Identifying mistakes is crucial for safe operations. This mindset, when starting a PHA, will help ensure your analysis has the intended effect of making the plant safer for everyone.