The Great Barrier Brief: Diving Into Dynamic Risk Pathways

The Great Barrier Brief: Diving Into Dynamic Risk Pathways

By | November 10, 2020

Read the Transcript:

James Tehrani: Welcome to the SpheraNOW podcast, I’m James Tehrani, Spark‘s editor-in-chief. Today on the program we have a very special guest, his names is James Brown and he is Accenture’s principle director for consulting. He was also a featured speaker during Sphera’s recent Safe Operations Summit, which you can watch on demand on Thank you so much for joining me today James.

James Brown: Thanks James, nice to meet you.

James Tehrani: Very nice to meet you too. So before we begin can you tell our audience a little about yourself and your role at Accenture?

James Brown: Yeah. So I’m Accenture’s HSE lead for Europe. My background is 10 years of operations and engineering experience, and then around 12 years of functional safety, risk, asset integrity consulting experience.

James Tehrani: Very good. And, I guess, I need to start off by asking you how the pandemic is really affecting safety? I know I was listening to part of your session during the summit and you were talking about how some turnarounds are being deferred until 2021. Are you at all concerned about how this will effect safety?

James Brown: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we’ve been working on a number of things around this point. To begin with really understanding how companies can safely operate during the pandemic. So how they can get people on site safely, maintain operations, maintain that minimum critical number of people, and competencies to actually deliver. And then it was more about really getting people back to work, so a lot around contact tracing and these types of things.

But you’re absolutely right, when it comes to turnarounds there’s been a lot of deferrals that have happened from 2020 into 2021. One of the biggest concerns around that is A, can you do it safely and is it the right thing to do? And what most companies do is they look at all of their equipment, and on an equipment by equipment basis they check to see is the risk too high for that particular piece of equipment? And can they actually defer. What they often fail to do is they don’t look at the bigger picture and see, “Well what are the interlinks between those bits of equipment?” And if you think of Swiss cheese or the Barrier Model, how could those things line up and potentially cause a major accident?

That’s one thing and the second thing is, obviously, the reason for delaying the turnarounds is the lack of resources, people can’t travel. You might need some specific expertise. So the idea is that you’ll be able to get that expertise next year but, of course, nobody really knows what’s going to happen next year. And also everybody is being re-booked under other turnarounds and there’s more work that’s going to need to happen next year. So yes, absolutely I can see there could be some problems.

James Tehrani: Definitely. So risk pathways is something that we’ve talked a lot about recently at Sphera and I’m curious to know your thoughts on this, because … Well, first of all, can you explain to our audience what a risk pathway is and how they develop?

James Brown: Yeah. So when I think of barrier management systems, so that is systems for managing your safeguarding barriers against major accidents, so your fires, your explosions, your toxic releases, your major structural collapse, or whatever’s relevant for your industry or your business, what companies have done in the past is … If you think of a maturity model, a four-step maturity model, so really early on … And this is what it was like when I was an operations engineer at a gas terminal, way back, you’d think about your process hazard analyses and you’d have safeguards in place, you’d have management systems in place. Typically, you may even consider what are your major accidents, but you wouldn’t necessarily really, clearly define what are your major accident barriers, what’s the level of performance you’d expect them to operate at? That’s the first stage, the early stage.

And then the next stage is really you’ve got what we call bow ties set up, so you understand what your barriers are and you use that, but you use it really just for visualization. It’s good for training, it’s good for explaining to people, and it’s good for giving you peace of mind for the fact that you’ve got barriers there.

The next step, which is more recent, is companies start to look at, “Well, okay, can we dynamically look at those barriers, and the status of those barriers, and pull that into a system, which in near real time you can get a good overview of each of those barriers and what’s going on with them? Are they available or aren’t they available?” And the idea of that being that you can see across the whole bow tie and you can make a good decision around that. Let’s say two or even three barriers are deficient then you can make a decision. But what tends to happen is it’s more of a work order status program and it’s focused really on just a few of its hardware. It doesn’t really consider organizational or operational barriers, they’re more softer barriers.

And then the next step, really, is the holy grail, which is what we’re talking about now around Dynamic Risk Pathways and around cumulative risk. So the problem with the previous dynamic barrier management systems is they look at status of barriers but don’t necessarily consider the fact that not all barriers are born equal, some of them are more better equipped to reduce risk than others.


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James Tehrani: Do you have an example of that? Because I was going to ask you about that, because you mentioned it also on the summit. I was hoping you might be able to provide an example of that for my audience.

James Brown: Yeah. So if you think about the engineering hierarchy of controls your fixed static controls there will … Your containment systems, for example, so from a pressure vessel. Is your containment … Is it designed properly? Is it the right thickness? Was it okay in the first place? And then are you maintaining that? That’s quite a good control. Obviously before that you’d have more inherent risk, you’d remove the hazard in the first place, but if you can’t and you’ve got more static. And then after that you’d have more instrumented systems, so emergency shutdown systems, and those could have different levels of reliability. So you talk about SIL levels, the higher the SIL level the more reliable it needs to be. And after that then you start looking at things like human systems and you’re expecting a control room operator to press the button, they’re less equal, I would say, than others. Yeah.

James Tehrani: Okay. Is there a difference between what you’d find in an older plant versus a newer plant, in terms of barrier issues or potential barrier issues?

James Brown: Yeah, absolutely. So older plant, if you’re talking 30 years plus, then there’s going to be a lot of degradation, corrosion, internal/external corrosion. They may well not have been cited as well as they could have been. So you look at various disasters you’ve had in the past, where a plant has built up around or the local area has built up around a plant then it’s not been cited that well. And then the reliability of the instrumented systems, as well, may not be as good. And there’s just a general degradation, so the health for your barrier naturally deteriorates over time.

James Tehrani: And how about for a newer plant?

James Brown: So for a newer plant, of course, you’d like to think that the plant would be designed in accordance with the risk and the latest standards, there’d be an update on standards, and there’d be a lot less degradation because it’s newer.

James Tehrani: Sure. All right. Well how can technology and software help prevent a risk pathway from developing?

James Brown: Okay. So it’s all about visibility and giving you that visibility through that risk pathway. So-

James Tehrani: And we’re talking about a real-time visibility?

James Brown: Exactly, real-time visibility. And what’s really important is that it’s not just usable by your technical safety engineer or your management team. It needs to be usable by the people on the shop floor, so your operations teams, your maintenance teams. It needs to be something that’s there. That’s where you’ll get the most use out of it. So Dynamic Risk Pathways, these tools, they give you that ability to see in a lot more detail than previous barrier management systems would give you.

James Tehrani: It seems like this is such a great idea, why has it taken so long to get here, where you’re able to get that real time look at the weaknesses in the plant and the barriers?

James Brown: I think the development of technology, the access to data, the operational data. We always talk about what we call dark data, so there’s a lot of data being captured and being used on a plant, but often it’s not usable between different systems. So you’ll have a different SCADA or a DCS system, you’ll have different operational IT. They’re typically put in place to be used for a specific purpose, without really considering that that data can be used for other things. And over time those lines are really blurring. And a lot of companies now are starting to use data lakes, they’re putting their data in the cloud, securely, but getting access to it for use in other use cases. And that’s what really developing on … And just the theory around this and the understanding is getting a lot better.

James Tehrani: That’s interesting, I’ve never heard that term dark data. So we talk a lot about data silos, is that very similar?

James Brown: It is similar, but dark data is data that you know you’ve got but you just can’t really access and use for other things. So it may sit in a silo, but it also may be something you know you’ve got but you can’t access.

James Tehrani: Interesting. So can you talk a little bit about the digital transformation process? I just saw an article, I think it was from last month, on ZDNet that said 60% of respondents said COVID-19 forced them to alter their digital transformation plans. Is that concerning to you at all?

James Brown: No, I think it’s one of the positive things that’s come out of this.

James Tehrani: How so?

James Brown: I mean, I see this as companies saying, “Look, we need our people to be more connected, so that if they need to work from home they can work from home.” And also getting access to the information that they need. So, okay, in the short-term it might be more difficult but I think it’s forcing people to really rethink what they were doing before, in a similar way to the way that they’re rethinking how they work, where they work from, their need to travel. These things are … Yeah, I think that’s one of the positive things to come from it.

James Tehrani: Okay. So similarly, when we talk about digital transformation, Sphera just released our PSM/ORM report two or three months ago, and 91% of the respondents in the report said having real-time risk indicators would improve safety and risk awareness, but only 1/3 of respondents said they manage process safety proactively. Isn’t there a disconnect there? And what do you think is causing that disconnect?

James Brown: Yeah, so 91% said that they would get a better overview but 30% said they wouldn’t, they haven’t got it?

James Tehrani: Exactly.

James Brown: Yeah.

James Tehrani: 36%.

James Brown: 36%. So yeah, I’m not so sure about disconnect. I think they’re saying that they would benefit from it but they don’t necessarily have it. And I think that’s just because of the barriers, the historical barriers, around putting a lot of this in place. There’s a barrier in terms of the cost, historically. There’s a barrier in terms of our own perception of what’s available and what’s affordable. These things are developing so quickly now and people don’t necessarily see that that’s available. Making the business case for it, as well, can be a challenge. I often see this with clients putting together a reasonable business case around management of risk and linking risk with value. A lot of companies struggle with … They really struggle with it.

James Tehrani: Is part of that the reason that it’s really hard to say that, “If I implement this software I can” … To really put the data points behind it. Is that the challenge, about how effective it will be?

James Brown: Yeah, it’s really … For me it’s about if you go to your chief financial officer and say, “Okay, give me a million dollars to implement this system,” then you start getting a lot of tough questions around, “Okay, so how many lives is it going to save? Can you guarantee this?” It’s all about reduction of risk, rather than it’s going to bring in more revenue or it’s going to reduce cost. And that’s the thing, I think, companies struggle with.

Often we don’t … There I said, that kind of the HSC community or the IT community, we don’t necessarily put this forward as actually it’s benefit in terms of efficiency, in terms of your ability to do your job, in terms of your ability to focus on doing the things on the frontline. And that’s where I see is great about these tools, is that it enables the people on the frontline to focus on what’s important. It directs them much more quickly. They don’t have to do so much administration, they don’t have to do so much rooting around. And you’re not so reliant on super experts, people who have been in the industry for 20, 30, 40 years. You can make the decisions much more …

James Tehrani: So if you took, for example, Dynamic Risk Pathways how would you use that to make the argument that this is a necessary expense to help keep these barriers safe, and to help prevent these risk pathways for developing? Can you talk a little bit about that, please?

James Brown: Yeah, sure. So, first of all, justifying managing major accidents is quite an important one. So when it comes to regulatory compliance we know, for example, several regulators are getting more and more concerned about the management of major accidents. I know the PSA in Norway, I believe others as well, they’re concerned that companies are relaxing when it comes to this. And this always happens when there’s a low oil price. You often see, within a year or two of the oil price dropping, you start to see major accidents happening and releases of hydrocarbons, and these types of things.

Yeah. When it comes to installing this kind of system it … When it comes to resource allocation it gets a lot better. When it comes to auditing and inspections you can do fewer of them, because you’re more assured by having that realtime data. You can make better decisions, which means, for an offshore installation, you’re flying people out less often, which saves you money doing that. It can reduce the downtime and that’s one of the big ones, of course. Downtime, for many of our clients, is very, very costly. So reducing that is very beneficial. You can reduce maintenance backlog, safety critical work orders. Yeah, there’s a number of different ways, but quantifying that can be quite a challenge.

James Tehrani: Definitely. And so can you talk to me a little bit about what you see in the future? What does the future hold for all of this software and technology?

James Brown: Yeah, good question. I think what’s good about this software is the linking to PHAs and the ability to show the level of risk reduction. So what you might find is one barrier gives you much better than, say, two other barriers. Where previously you didn’t get that overview. So linking that together is quite good. And giving yourself the flexibility going forward. So there’s a lot of changes that we see happening. We’ve got an aging workforce and this type of system is really going to help the newer talent coming through to really understand how that plant is operating, and what is really important, and how they prioritize their time. It’s going to make it easier for them to learn.

James Tehrani: Definitely. And that’s a risk we often talk about, is that knowledge gap. When, say, an older worker leaves the organization or finds another job and leaves the organization, it’s how do you hold on to all that safety knowledge, if it’s in somebody’s head or in an Excel spreadsheet, or in a notebook somewhere? You know what I mean?

James Brown: That’s right. That’s right. And what I would say is the people who have got all the knowledge are not necessarily conversant with the digital systems. We weren’t brought up with these kind of systems that are available now. Whereas the younger talent coming through, they’re not just used to it they expect it. It’s how life operates now. And they learn differently, it’s just a different way of learning. So these systems can really help them to onboard, and to be efficient at doing what they’re doing, and to learn much, much quicker.

James Tehrani: Definitely. And we always … I mean, as somebody who’s not an expert in safety I always think to myself, “How is it we still have major accidents occurring in 2020?” It feels like we have all this technology at our fingertips that we should be able to do something about it. And perhaps maybe we do now.

James Brown: Yes. Yep, I think you’re right. I think we’re still seeing major accidents. I’m sure there’ll be more, but we’ve just got to try the best we can to stop them from happening.

James Tehrani: Well thank you so much, James, I really appreciate your time.

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