Risk-based Oversight & the Chemicals Industry

Risk-based Oversight Strategies were the ‘Hot topic’ when I was at EASA. I see the documents published:

https://www.easa.europa.eu/document-library/general-publications/practices-risk-based-oversight

I have suddenly got rather excited about this topic and its application in the Petrochemicals Industry. If it isn’t a big thing already, it soon will be once the savings vs. benefits are properly understood. 

To understand Risk-based approaches, it’s useful to compare with a traditional Procedure-based approach. Think of the procedure as a checklist. Before a plane takes off, the crew go through a list and tick items off. That list must then contain everything that might conceivably go wrong, so that approach takes time. Risk-based approaches would concentrate on areas where failures are more likely – a more focused approach, where the same amount of resources are used more effectively. Think of a group of inspectors at an airport – they can’t check every plane, so they focus on the older models, or operators who have poorer safety records, and let the others through with more trust and less oversight (trust is a key issue in Risk assessment).

In the real world, both of these approaches complement each other. A team working a plant need their procedures and checklists, and the oversight team need to focus their efforts on areas where they know there are the greatest risks. The oversight team need to take these risks into account when they revise the procedures to mitigate areas they have identified. The teams need to establish a base of trust with the oversight that they are following procedures correctly. And so it becomes a cycle.

Any risk analysis accepts that there is a risk of failure. The ‘allowable risk’ is calculated on the basis of probability vs. consequences, and is a figure representing costs. And safety is a cost. But it isn’t a linear relationship. 100% more money spent won’t mean 100% more safety. No more than spending twice as much in a restaurant will guarantee the food tastes twice as good. Any industry involving safety is finding a balance between the levels of safety and profitability – finally, it must be in everyone’s interest that the resources are used in the most effective ways possible. 

The one thing that is missing in this data-driven world, which was notable in the aviation and transport industries, is a common incident database. The Aviation one is ECCAIRS ( http://www.aviationreporting.eu/AviationReporting/ )  – I wonder if similar could exist for the Chemicals Industry? Probably industrial secrecy prevents it? I’m going to find out more…

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