What impact does deferring inspection or maintenance on your relief valve have on your organization’s exposure to a major incident, such as an explosion or fire?

This is not an easy question. Organizations struggle to understand real-time equipment and system conditions that could affect their exposure to a major hazard. Yet, for the safety of people, assets, the surrounding community, production and, not to mention, shareholder value, it’s critically important to clearly understand these threat lines—as well as the actual state of safeguards to prevent costly process safety incidents and improve operational efficiencies.

Technical, operational and organizational controls are intended to reduce the possibility of error, hazard, accident and near-misses–or limit their harm. Structural integrity, ignition control, detection, protection and emergency response support safety system integrity. Response to process alarms, emergency response drills, handover and restarting equipment are human barriers that support safe operating discipline. These are managed by organizational systems like Permit to Work, smart isolations, Management of Change, competency management, and more.

However, within these vast data sets, there are many ways that process safety barriers can be weakened or defeated. Complex systems constantly migrate toward states of higher risk. Any impairments to safeguarding barriers along the pathway increase risk exposure.

Process Hazard Analysis (PHA), Hazard and Operability (HAZOP), bowtie and other risk studies capture hazard-related information and help put adequate controls in place based on analysis at static intervals of time that could be months or even years. It would be time-consuming, expensive and very difficult to capture ongoing, evolving information more frequently. Sphera’s 2020 survey on Process Safety and Operational Risk Management confirmed that 51% of organizations collect this information manually or automatically every one to six years and report them into static dashboards. Only 37% of companies say they proactively manage process safety, and 49% say they are unaware of their Major Accident Hazard (MAH) risk vulnerability.

To reduce near-misses, accidents and major hazard events, organizations must capture a real-time view of safeguards and associated risks. To do so, they need comprehensive datasets from a host of sources, including maintenance, deviations, incidents, training, safety critical procedure updates, permits and more.

By bringing all this information together through advanced digital twin and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies, operational safety teams can have insights into equipment, process, and operational conditions that could contribute to a major event. Operators can map their exposure to specific consequences or credible risk pathways that are developing or have developed. And they can understand the effectiveness of barriers they have in place to prevent or mitigate events with dashboard views of progress toward loss of primary containment and control.

Barrier/safeguard status is no longer based on static assessment data held in spreadsheets; it’s displayed on a dashboard based on current safeguard and risk pathway health, including real-time sensor data at the edge of industrial environments. Organizations can drill down into safeguard status to see maintenance, verification and operational statuses to identify and prioritize actions to reduce MAH risk exposure.

The kind of tool I’m referencing is on the leading edge of innovation: the next generation of Digital Twin technology to model and simulate process safety risk exposure. Called Dynamic Risk Pathways, technical safety information often hidden away in an organization—including threats and consequences identified in risk studies, PHAs, HAZOPs and bowtie analysis—are available to be used in dynamic, real-time operational environments. Compliance is easily demonstratable with information that proves as low as reasonably practical (ALARP) and that the plant really is safe with evidence to support it.

By utilizing the current status information from asset integrity inspections, process safety critical equipment,  IIoT sensor data, maintenance and operational activities and deviations from normal operating conditions, operators can better understand the overall health of their safeguarding barriers and risk pathways. Now, new leading safety indicators improve operational decision-making, maintenance prioritization, asset integrity and production uptime.

Half of respondents (52%) in Sphera’s recent PSM/ORM survey say they are making investments in dynamic risk pathways to achieve access to the nuanced state of process safety barrier health in real-time so they can proactively act as well as the ability to simulate operating conditions based on certain risk scenarios.

Remaining safe, resilient and competitive requires organizations to make investments in innovative, data-driven technology to optimize maintenance and safety-critical priorities, decrease downtime and reduce exposure to Major Accident Hazard risk.

By investing in these systems, organizations can generate more value from their data and better understand how process systems interact, so they can know with confidence their plant is safe.

‘Green’ Means Go: Enter Dynamic Risk Pathways

Dynamic Risk Pathways is the next-generation Process Safety Management Digital Twin software powered by operational, process and equipment data that drives home results for safe operations in real time.

Courtney Brewer

Courtney Brewer

Courtney Brewer is Sphera's product marketing manager for Operational Risk Management. She is responsible for developing and delivering the global go-to-market strategy for the company’s Operational Risk Management portfolio. Brewer joined Petrotechnics, which has since been acquired by Sphera, in 2014. She has more than a dozen years of experience creating top-of-mind awareness for global technology solution providers supporting the Oil & Gas, Chemical and Manufacturing industries.

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