Making the most of hazard identification

Making the most of hazard identification

A thorough hazard identification process is the foundation of good risk management, without which, risk may be missed, misunderstood and mis-managed. But is hazard identification becoming too boring?

There are a number of established hazard identification techniques used in industry, including checklists, HAZOP and FMEA to name a few. Operators at high hazard sites can therefore select the most appropriate process according to the lifecycle stage, the project intent and site complexity. However, as these techniques become well practised it is possible that they become routine with the same people involved using the same process over and over again.

It can be tempting to restrict creativity in HAZID. In most aspects of plant operation, such as manufacturing and quality management, we tend to strive for consistency. While consistency in most processes is beneficial, it is important to consider the potential pitfalls of this in HAZID. It could lead to the application of the wrong technique for the circumstance, and with less rigour and creativity, as the familiarity of participants means they enter the process with preconceived ideas.

There is a lot of guidance on how to select and implement the correct HAZID technique, but it should also be considered that these methods can be tweaked or supplemented, as long as the fundamental philosophy remains the same. It is important that in preparing for a hazard identification exercise, guidewords are carefully considered and selected to reflect the conditions on the plant. Generic prompts that will have to be deliberated over on the day should be avoided. Guidewords should encourage rather than restrict the creativity of the study team.

Drawings and diagrams are useful tools and should always be used to gain a clear understanding of the plant, but it may be beneficial to supplement this with a walk-around and talk through of the plant itself. Drawings can fail to convey important information that a walk-around would identify. This is particularly useful when involving external participants in the exercise who might have limited knowledge of the plant and also a different perspective.

Considering past incidents, both on the establishment and elsewhere, can also stimulate an exercise. The COMAH Regulations 2015 require sites to keep a record of incidents and lessons learnt at establishments with similar processes and substances in order to inform risk management. The data can help to identify hazards previously taken for granted by bringing them to light and emphasising the potential consequences of failing to manage them.

As HAZID techniques become routine, a customary team from within the organisation may naturally develop and over time they might become the go-to group for all exercises. Is it wise to use the same methods and same team, time and time again? While it is important for efficiency that the team is familiar with the process and indeed each other, there is a danger of complacency and over-familiarisation resulting in missed opportunities to pick up hazards.

While it might seem more efficient to use a team of in-house personnel, it is often beneficial to involve an independent participant or chair whose unfamiliarity with the process can provide a fresh perspective and stimulate creative thinking. Remember the objective is to think the unthinkable, and uncover hazards so they can be controlled. In HAZID, no question is ever a stupid one.

Operators shouldn’t be afraid to start from a blank piece of paper; our experience at RAS is that this is often quicker and more productive than deliberating over the reasons for the team’s historic assumptions.

While following set methodologies for hazard identification is important, it can be valuable to take a step back and consider if they will enable you to make the most of the exercise. Remember the ultimate purpose of the HAZID exercise, don’t let it become something you just have to do. By considering the process used, people involved and the best timing for a study, it is possible to transform a routine HAZID exercise into a rewarding, productive and worthwhile experience. The key is creativity. Why not try new visual approaches such as bowties or barrier assessments? Have fun!

Carolyn Nicholls

Jenny Hill