Major accidents in the process industries continue to be high profile affairs, perhaps more so now that advances in technology create the illusion that they are simply unthinkable.
To manage the risk of major accidents, the frequency at which new and revised regulations are taking effect is increasing and they are becoming more strictly enforced than ever before. Compliance with Health, Safety and Environmental legislation is increasingly difficult to achieve and maintain, and a lot is at stake. The consequences of non-compliance are growing – penalties, both personal and corporate, are becoming larger and damage to reputation and brand greater.
With mounting pressure on the industry to enforce greater and greater levels of compliance, it would be easy for the operator to perceive regulation as a threat and a hindrance to carrying out day to day business. However, when acknowledging the unique goal setting approach of the regulations in the UK, they instead present the opportunity for a positive experience.
In response to the threat of the consequences of non-compliance that a bureaucratic regulatory approach brings with it, using an audit-type, formulaic approach to prove compliance appears, at first glance, to be the ideal solution. This approach seems comprehensive, simple and accessible, with the main advantage that it can be quick. Just list all the requirements from the regulations and use a simple tick or cross to determine if the requirements are fulfilled. An operator could be forgiven for relying on an audit schedule to demonstrate compliance, but when taking into consideration the unique goal setting approach of regulations in the UK, the use of simple checklists might not be the most effective way to ensure compliance. In fact, they might even impede what it is that the regulations are designed to provide – an opportunity for improving process safety that is managed continuously.
Regulations in the UK differ from those overseas by cutting out the prescriptive red tape and taking a goal setting approach. The UK regulations set out what must be accomplished, but not how it should be achieved. In terms of compliance, the goal setting approach provides the latitude for operators to demonstrate how they have met the regulatory goals for their particular site and circumstances. This approach has the added benefit of ensuring that the risk is better understood and managed.
An audit schedule is, of course, a useful means of checking off requirements, and might help to identify a few gaps. However, an annual audit shouldn’t be the driver for compliance and the main tool for major hazard management in an industry that carries risk every day. Instead, the goal setting approach of the UK regulations facilitates the continuous demonstration of compliance through the management systems and day to day operations on hazardous sites.
Goal setting lends itself much better to good risk management. Every installation is different, and risk is a unique challenge to everybody. Applying a prescriptive, one size fits all approach to such a dynamic industry is just not practicable for either the operator or the regulator. By avoiding a prescriptive approach, the regulations allow for a more practical risk-based approach to compliance. The operator can take control and apply the most appropriate and proportionate risk management techniques for their site.
Essentially, a goal setting approach to compliance means that there is continuous opportunity for improvement. To be restricted to a prescriptive checklist is to eliminate the possibility of progress and improvement and could very well fail to consider the unique risk picture of the installation.
Standing back and considering the unique opportunity provided by the regulations to reach process safety goals will result in the continuous opportunity for identification of improvement measures which will provide both the operator and the regulator assurance that the risk in their facility is understood and will continue to be, as low as reasonably practicable.
The regulations can then start to work for the operator and not the other way round.
Director, RAS Ltd