In this issue of the Chemical Industry Journal, we speak to Andy Stanley, Managing Director and founding partner of RAS, a specialist risk management firm with particular expertise in high hazard industries.

Today, the RAS team works with over 70 Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) sites, from large refineries right down to single product storage depots. The vast majority of their clients, however, operate upper tier COMAH sites. Their skilled team has worked on some of the biggest and most influential projects in the industry, including assisting in the aftermath of the Buncefield explosion.

Proudly independent

As an independent firm, the team responds quickly to clients’ requirements, unencumbered as they are by the corporate structures and consultancy models typical of larger companies. “Working shoulder to shoulder with our clients, we identify the unique challenges of their business and provide solutions that meet their specific needs, rather than assuming one approach fits all,” explains Andy.

Andy graduated in nuclear physics, going on to work for the atomic energy authority as part of the Sizewell public enquiry team. His career developed in the area of fire modelling and progression, so in the aftermath of the Piper Alpha disaster, Andy got involved in the offshore oil and gas industry and Safety Case development.

Founding RAS in 1993, now over a quarter of a century later, Andy and the skilled team of 20 consultants with backgrounds in chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, geography etc, work with clients around the globe.

Leading companies in the oil and gas, pharmaceuticals and specialist chemical sectors utilise the RAS team’s expertise pertaining to the successful identification, assessment and management of safety, business and environmental risks.

In this edition, Andy explains why process safety leadership should be at the top of our agenda, but first, we’ll take a step back to understand the context that has led up to the COMAH Competent Authority (CA) making leadership one of their strategic topics for 2019.

COMAH and beyond

The COMAH regulations of 1999 and updated in 2015, stipulate that every operator takes all necessary measures to prevent major accidents and limit the consequences to people and the environment.

These regulations, reinforced by major incidents like the 2005 Buncefield explosion, recognise that the damage wrought by such incidents is not limited to businesses but can impact detrimentally on surrounding communities too.

In mitigating the risk to people and the environment, there was a growing understanding that the management of major accident hazards needs to be a part of an organisation’s day to day safety processes, rather than an occasional or reactive activity. A completely separate policy is needed which recognises that managing major accidents is different to managing occupational health and safety.

Putting leadership centre stage

“In the aftermath of the Buncefield explosion, it was found that a lack of leadership contributed to what became Europe’s largest peacetime fire. For the first time, a process safety leadership group was established, with representatives from high hazard industries, regulators and unions, with the remit to agree, amongst other things, the principles of process safety leadership. Principles which changed the industry’s understanding of leaders’ responsibilities.”

Here the role of leaders began to take centre stage both in setting the tone for process safety within an organisation and for allowing the management of major accident hazards the time, attention and resources required. In short, leaders have a critical role to play in effective process safety.

Process safety leadership principles

“The eight principles established that leadership is at the core of process safety and managing major accident hazards and that this necessitates senior leadership involvement and competence. Constant active engagement with the workforce is also required for improvements to be made and for effective process safety to be both established and maintained.”

“Senior leader visibility and promotion of process safety are essential for establishing a process safety conscious culture, as is engaging the whole workforce in achieving good process safety management.”

“Monitoring process safety performance is central to effective management as is transparency, with process safety performance data published to boost public confidence. Publication encourages companies to hold themselves to account and ensures they don’t become complacent or lose focus.”

“Sharing best practice across all sectors, together with ensuring lessons are learned and implemented from relevant incidents, is imperative. Sharing allows businesses to learn from both good and poor performance. In this respect, the major hazards industry can learn a great deal from the airline industry, where knowledge is quickly disseminated across the globe.”

“Suffice to say, these principles do not work in isolation, all of them need to be adopted to first establish and then maintain effective process safety. Ultimately, leaders not only need to show their understanding of these principles but they have to be able to demonstrate them in action too.”

Leadership at the heart

“The Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and industry bodies have been instrumental in improving process safety and helping businesses to understand what they need to do to demonstrate and maintain COMAH compliance.

“More than a decade on from these eight principles being developed, the COMAH CA is working to ensure leadership remains at the core of process safety, publishing a new delivery guide and intervention tool with leadership interventions planned as part of their strategic topic.”

“We support the CA’s strategic objective that the major hazards industry takes a closer look at process safety leadership. With this in mind, we’ve produced a short video, on leadership within process safety in conjunction with the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) and ITN productions, illustrating the importance of process safety leadership and collaboration on high hazard sites.”

“The video, which is part of the CIA’s Solutions For Our Future Programme includes contributions from the University of Hull and the Tank Storage Association, with whom we’ve been working on best practice. Over the last few months, we’ve presented papers and shown the video at conferences including IChemE Hazards 29, to galvanise interest in the topic of process safety leadership.”

Stark reminders

“The Buncefield incident is a stark reminder of what can happen when leaders are not at the core of process safety. 43 people were injured, there was widespread devastation and disruption, and the cost to the environment has been calculated to be in excess of 1billion euros.”

“A single incident can take a company to its knees, just as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill had a hugely detrimental impact on BP. Businesses can’t afford to get it wrong. Strong process safety performance is imperative for protecting people and the environment, and it also makes good business sense!”