Delivering safety and efficiency in facility hazard assessments

In the midst of a pandemic that has slowed or shut down major sectors of the economy, assessments of prospective process facility hazards have not become optional. With some adjustments to procedures — like leveraging virtual communications tools — companies like Fluor Canada have adapted to be able to perform effective virtual Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) assessments while helping companies to increase efficiencies in challenging times.

Fluor’s work helps clients to achieve positive results and practical solutions within the triangle of quality-process-schedule while being conscious of the costs and helping to balance the risk, the company said. Safety is never compromised in this process; rather, the process is lead with it.  

“Every project, plant or facility is required to have a hazard review completed to identify potential hazards of operating the facility, help define how to manage the hazards through identification of process safeguards and operational changes,” said Cara Green, senior HSE Technical Specialist at Fluor’s Calgary office.

“Most organizations recognize how important PHAs are, as well as how big of an impact it can have on a facility’s design if it is not conducted effectively the first time,” she said. “The important thing is for organizations to avoid viewing this activity as an obligatory checkbox on a to-do list. Giving it the attention to detail it requires is something easily accomplished with an experienced facilitator involved.”

A chemical engineering technologist with 21 years of experience in the energy and chemicals industry, Green has completed hundreds of PHA assessments for owners across North America. Her design experience includes HSE lead for major projects, and field construction support including pre-commissioning. She is currently responsible for execution of PHAs and SIL assessments for a mega project currently in execution at Fluor’s Calgary office.

Uncovering hidden risks

PHA assessments involve a structured and systematic examination of a process or operation in order to identify problems that may present risks to workers or equipment. By reviewing facility designs and ongoing changes, a PHA oftentimes uncover design, engineering and operability issues that may otherwise have not been identified.

A hazard assessment for facilities handling highly hazardous chemicals is typically required by law every five years in the U.S., which is more prescriptive than Canadian requirements, though the same practice is largely followed in Canada. Additionally, changes in a facility at any time may require a PHA re-evaluation — and if there are multiple changes over time, there needs to be an evaluation of how those changes affect one another, Green said.

Green helps clients choose the type of review they need, plan the review and facilitate the multidiscipline teams participating in the PHA reviews. “I help to determine the best type of PHA for that facility, considering things like the facility complexity and what types of materials/chemicals are being handled. I am the subject matter expert at Fluor in Canada on PHA and LOPA and have performed assessments in sectors including oil and gas, chemicals, mining, nuclear and pharmaceutical.

I perform preliminary hazard reviews all the way through the final stages of detailed engineering, including field modification if required. We do different degrees of depth of PHA analysis at each stage of the project based on the technical information available.”

Green brings a lot of real-world site experience to her current role. She spent the first eight years of her career with Fluor at a major operating oil refinery, gaining the opportunity to see close-up how everything fits together in the field.

The subject matter expert role applies best practices, helping guide clients to the most effective solution. “Our goal is to make the plant safe and operable without adding unnecessary levels of complication, as that can sometimes have the opposite effect of what we are trying to achieve. I help clients balance and manage the risk without going overboard or gold plating.”

Need for constant attention

“Changes made to a facility over the course of time necessitates a reassessment. Maybe they have made 10 small changes and they’ve done a hazard review on each of those changes, but no one's ever looked at the effect of those 10 changes together,” said Green. Routine facility-wide hazard assessments would examine how the individual changes may interact with each other to create hazards, she said.

“People sometimes don’t realize the effects from even one small change. A small tweak on a project, something that looks relatively minor, can actually have fairly big process safety impacts that need to be dealt with to meet the risk profile for that project.”

Fluor is also adapting to evolving markets. In the new energy space, the company anticipates more PHA studies for renewable projects like wind and solar farms as well as hydrogen production plants, representing strong areas of growth in Alberta going forward. The nature of the risks may evolve, but the need for a hazard assessment does not.

“The style of assessment may change, but you still need to do a hazard assessment of some sort on the facility in general. For example, when you get into the solar [installations], it's more of an electrical hazard review. So you change your hazards, but you don’t change the need for hazard review. You can apply these principles to many different things — it’s quite adaptable. At the end of the day, you’re doing the same thing — you’re finding the hazards and making sure you're protecting people, the environment and the facility against them.”

HAZOP in a pandemic

Any resistance to conducting PHA studies virtually that existed pre-COVID-19 has largely gone away during the pandemic, as virtual communications became a necessity. The shortcomings — such as compensating for things like the lack of personal interaction between team members — have been dealt with, notes Green.

Sometimes, facilitators felt they really needed to see people’s faces and body language to assess a full understanding of subject matter while facilitating a group, for example, she said. Today, in cases where video interaction is not possible, we’re limited to voice communication only. “In instances where we need to rely on audio communication only, facilitators have had to amplify their active listening skills.

While new capital projects have slowed in recent years, PHA work has not, as operating facilities in Canada — and across the world — are still required to keep their hazard assessments up to date, she said.

“There will be a lot more optimization of existing plants to capitalize on current assets. PHA assessments and subject matter expertise remain integral to supporting industry during these challenging times.”

 

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