Awareness Of Your Elevated Risks
Aberdeen-based software company is seeing big interest in its ‘Proscient’ solution to help offshore workers be more aware about elevated risks, so they can plan their work accordingly.
One thread common to the Piper Alpha, Texas City Refinery and Deepwater Horizon accident investigation reports is there were multiple factors which elevated risk levels leading up to the incidents.
Taken on their own, they may have been considered to represent an acceptable level of risk, but unfortunately their cumulative impact on risk was much higher than was realized at the time. They also represented multiple opportunities for preventing the incident from occurring or escalating.
“In all 3 incidents, there were multiple prevention and mitigation barriers which failed, each representing an opportunity to stop the accident from happening or at least mitigating its consequences. The problem in all 3 incidents was the information which could have informed and possibly changed the decisions that were made was not easily available,” said Mike Neill, North American President of Aberdeen software company, Petrotechnics.
“Most people have a keen survival instinct so when hazards are obvious, they will react to avoid an incident,” Mr. Neill continues. “If you walk down some steep steps and there is not a hand rail, you naturally proceed with some caution or you do not go down at all being aware of the fall hazard. Today, few people smoke cigarettes because they are aware of the publicized cancer, heart attack and stroke risk. 50 years ago the majority of people smoked. The risks were the same but the population at large were unaware of them.
These simple examples show how people change their behavior and make different decisions based on information received, and as a result, they reduce their exposure to risk.
The aim here is to show if information about risk factors had been more widely shared in the case of Piper Alpha, Texas City and Deep-water Horizon, these accidents might not have occurred.
In hazardous industries, “multiple layers of protection” are used so organizations are not just relying on the performance of a single barrier, recognizing that each of the multiple layers may not be perfect.
Swiss cheese is a commonly used metaphor for the protection layers. The holes represent the barrier imperfections, and incidents occur when all of the holes in each of the layers line up, a failure of not just one but of several barriers.
“When major accidents are investigated, it is typical to find there were many opportunities for people to intervene and prevent the incident from occurring or escalating. Typically the reason cited for lack of intervention was they did not have all the relevant, up-to-date information to make better decisions. They were unable to join up the dots, so to speak. They did not see the holes in the cheese lining up,” says Mr. Neill.
Petrotechnics’ flagship operational excellence management platform, ‘Proscient,’ can be used to understand and manage elevated risk associated with operations. For example, the software can help everyone on the platform be aware if there is a planned maintenance task which will elevate risks, such if you have to temporarily break pipework or a containment system to do a job.
You might be planning to inspect electrical junction boxes, which means there is a possible source of an ignition spark. Normally the junction boxes are closed and sealed, so any gas in the air can’t reach inside. With Proscient, an icon will show on a map of the plant that the ignition barrier system is currently compromised.
The system can share information about particularly high-risk tasks being carried out, such as a heavy lift over a live plant or performing “hot work” with a naked flame or ignition source.
If safety equipment is unavailable, such as if the sprinkler system is blocked with scale, you can indicate one of your safety barriers is not working, risks are therefore higher in that area of the plant and the decision might mean to not carry out with the intended work program.
Proscient can share information about which pieces of safety equipment are overdue for inspection or maintenance in specific areas.
A company may have a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) saying 95 per cent of its safety critical maintenance and inspections are up to date. This may give a false sense of confidence, particularly if the 5 per cent overdue is in one area where you are planning hazardous work. “Reliance on broad brush KPIs is not sufficient. You need to know details of deferrals, and these need to be current and area specific so the relevant people can make the correct judgements about activities,” Mr. Neill says.
This information can be made available to all staff members through clear visualisations. “We’re trying to bring this stuff together so it is more staring you in the face,” Mr. Neill says.
The software is used by offshore staff to log and monitor anything which is increasing risk from a minimum acceptable level, and this information can then be widely shared, with pictures, showing what is leading to a higher risk and what extra measures should be taken. “A lot of data tends to be kept by specific experts, perhaps because they think no-one else will understand it,” Mr. Neill says. So one of the things Proscient does is aim to make this easier, creating visualisations for data in real-time.
The software takes all the elevated levels of risk into account and provides an overall assessment, shown with a red traffic light. This can be used as a basis for users to make alterations to the plan, until the software displays amber or green signals, showing the risk potential has reached an acceptable level.
A danger signal might be because (for example) certain high-risk jobs are happening at the same time, in the same place, or a number of concurrent high-risk jobs are working against one another.
Decisions about taking action to reduce risk are relatively complex, when it comes to prioritizing one task over another. Priorities have to be made because there is always limited resource. In the case of offshore facilities the constraints can be finite bed space and helicopter seats.
Without a tool like Proscient, the impact on risk of performing one task versus another is difficult to judge so often is given less consideration. Similarly, the consequence of tasks being delayed often results in increasing risk. But this can be difficult to quantify which weakens its priority justification. In the end, it often comes down to who shouts loudest as to what work is prioritised, Mr Neill says.
When it comes to day-of work, frontline decision makers are typically pragmatic. So if they are not made aware of defective barrier systems, they will typically assume all is in good order, unless there are visual indications to the contrary, Mr. Neill says.
Proscient helps support frontline decision makers. For example there is a low pressure drainage system where pitting corrosion has resulted in leaks, yet the leaks have been patched. You could say “that’s a medium level risk” (in case the patches fail) and “any work within a 20m radius should always have continuous gas monitoring, until the pipework has been replaced.”
Ultimately, decisions need to be made by people not a machine, but the software means that operations decisions are “not made while wearing a blindfold,” he said.
“The system isn’t going to judge what’s safe and what isn’t,” he said. “We’re providing information that allows users to make better, more informed decisions.”
The “Proscient” software has many graphical displays, for example showing a layout of the facility, with icons showing the work which is currently going on, and flags showing where there are weaknesses in some of the barrier systems.
The software is web-based, so the client just needs a PC with a browser or a mobile tablet. It can be hosted by Petrotechnics or by the client. “Offshore on platform you’re never that far from a PC,” he says.
“We’re finding in the US there’s a big push for using mobile solutions. We have dedicated apps that sit on mobile tablets and are user friendly in the field.
The software can automatically suck data from other software packages such as SAP, Maximo, Primavera, OSIsoft and more.
Petrotechnics is mainly focused on production operations in the oil and gas and petrochemical industries but has recently broken into rail transportation.
The two most recent publicly announced oil and gas contracts were in February 2015, with Nexen agreeing to install the Proscient software on two offshore assets in the North Sea, and in September 2014, with Teekay Petrojarl agreeing to deploy the software on its FPSOs in the North Sea (both UK and Norwegian sectors) and in Brazil.
One major oil company has Petrotechnics’ software installed on all of its upstream assets, and staff say it is “second only to e-mail as the most used piece of software on a facility,” says Mr. Neill.
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