Effective HAZID – it’s in the psychology

Effective HAZID – it’s in the psychology

In the previous edition, we wrote about making the most of hazard identification in order to facilitate effective risk management, including use of a team with an independent chair to stimulate creative thinking.

This time we explore more closely the importance of getting the right people involved in HAZID and why, in reality, this might not always be given priority. After all, if we don’t identify all the risks, how can we manage them?

Using a team for HAZID is important; several minds with different areas of expertise allows different perspectives to be taken into account. While this might seem like it goes without saying, in some instances hazard identification is carried out and reviewed by an ill-fitted team, whether too large, too small, with the wrong areas of expertise, or even carried out by an individual. Why though, if the benefits of team exercises appear to be so clear? Is it a matter of resource or is there a more deep seated reason to why operators might limit HAZID efforts?

One reason might be the failure to recognise the difference between actual risk and perceived risk. The perception of risk can be altered by several factors, and the result is generally that risk is perceived to be lower than it actually is. These factors include familiarity and the effect this has on complacency, the acceptance of consequences for reward (e.g. efficient operation) and the influence of choice over how we perceive danger. In the case of the operator who is responsible for allocating resources, perceived risk might result in incorrect prioritisation of risk management and a lack of focus on effective HAZID.

Within the HAZID session itself, all of these factors may affect the level of commitment of individuals to identifying hazards. It is important that those involved with the exercise are familiar with the plant and process in order to ensure that the outcomes are correct. However, the level of familiarity is a factor that reduces perceived risk and can therefore have a detrimental effect on hazard identification by either blinding people to the hazard or creating an ‘it’ll never happen here’ culture. This may be exaggerated in a team that is too large by the concept of diffused responsibility, or the bystander effect, where there is a presumption that others in the group will assume responsibility, discouraging individuals from contributing new ideas.

The concept of risk compensation is also a factor that might lead to the focus on HAZID and risk management slipping, both on an organisational level and during a HAZID session. On a high hazard site, personnel have constant exposure to the arrangements for risk reduction around them. For example, they receive training, work with safety systems such as alarms and rehearse emergency response scenarios as a regular part of their operational duties. Such exposure to protection measures provide a sense of security which might be exaggerated, prompting personnel to act with disregard to the actual risk.

The familiarity of a person with the subject of the HAZID is an important consideration when choosing a team and is a particular argument against allowing the factors discussed above to lead to a culture where an individual performing a HAZID is standard practise. Of course familiarity is vital, however a level of independence will discourage the participants from falling into the trap of mindless or one-sided thinking. Take for example a project manager, who has worked on the subject since the beginning, understands the topic in fine detail and has had a considerable influence over design and operation. With such a high level of knowledge and attachment to the subject, it would (understandably) be difficult to open their mind to any changes, both physically and also to how they regard their project. In HAZID, it would be difficult for an individual to think creatively and conceive of any hazards that had not been identified in the early stages of design.

There are many things that should be taken into consideration when planning a HAZID session. The selection of participants should be deliberate; numbers, areas of expertise and level of independence should all be taken into account. A suitable team can help to avoid the concepts discussed from resulting in hazards being omitted from a HAZID exercise, and will ultimately mean the difference between risk that is actively managed and accidentally managed.