Process industries should take heed of the recently submitted draft report by the CSB on the Chevron Richmond fire and explosion that occurred in August of 2012. The report ultimately defines the incident that endangered the lives of 19 workers as preventable. The pipe that ruptured was subject to sulfidation corrosion – metal deterioration caused by the presence of sulfur compounds at high temperatures. This well known damage mechanism was not acted upon in this case, even though multiple recommendations had been made. The investigation determined that those recommendations spanned more than 10 years.
The report goes on to detail a list of recommendations that include greater government insight, greater regulatory control, greater community and worker involvement. While not being a proponent of bigger government, the message can't be denied that something must be done to avoid and prevent future incidents such as this at our nations process facilities. In the news just yesterday morning was yet another report of an explosion. This time in Waco Tx. at a fertilizer plant.
The risk associated with operating these facilities is inherent to the design, process, and chemicals that are being used or being produced. Acknowledging that risk and managing it in the most effective manner is significantly different that than continuing to "roll the dice" and always assume the outcome will be in our favor. The line between acceptable risk and intolerable risk is something that is broadly defined by society. In the process industry terms and methodologies such as ALARP (as low as reasonably practicable) FMEA (failure modes and effects analysis) PHA (process hazards analysis) and many others abound. There is no shortage of risk assessment methodologies, or technology to support those various methodologies.
What is needed to be able to prevent incidents such as this and also to prevent greater regulatory scrutiny and the associated cost that would add to doing business, is a complete and broadly accepted picture of risk and a set of actionable recommendations to reduce that risk to tolerable levels. This goes beyond selection of metallurgy for a given application, and needs to address the corporate psyche in a manner that places risk reduction and management of risk on an even par with net profits.
Consider the results of a recent Asset Safety webcast, that was attended by nearly 100 industry professionals, that shows that the priorities associated with recommendation tracking and implementation is an area that needs greater focus. Consider also that many of the recommendations that were listed as incomplete are more than 10 years old.
Learning from our past mistakes means that we cannot simply ignore risk. It's won't go away. It is a ever present fact in the businesses we are engaged in. We can either choose to manage that risk in a manner that is consistent with the long range goals of our organization and culture, which is not to allow failure mechanisms and other hazards to run to failure, or thin to a point where a pole can poked through a pipe, or we can take a proactive approach towards the management of risk. Risks of all severities and magnitudes should have visibility from the "board room" to the "control room". It is only when all involved parties (e.g. those who stand to lose the most) are aligned that we will be able to to get beyond the "glad that didn't happen to me" mentality that remains prevalent in our industries to this day.