Operational excellence is a fundamental goal of companies and hence the primary pursuit of CEOs or boards of directors. In order to achieve operational excellence, two objectives must be reached, namely:
- Develop an optimized operational business strategy across all facets of the organisation.
- Operationalize or implement the strategy to become integral to the business.
The interdependence of these objectives is evident in the continuous improvement cycle of plan-do-check-act that has become embedded in modern management system practices. Various industries have developed customised versions of this cycle to address industry-specific needs and focal points e.g. Six Sigma. For the O&G industry, the escalated threat of Major Accident Hazards (MAH) makes process safety management a critical element in achieving operational excellence.
In response to a long history of catastrophic events, the chemical process industry has developed sound strategies for managing process safety risk. Guidelines for Risk Based Process Safety (RBPS), published by the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS), is the most widely accepted code of practice in the industry. As may be expected, key elements of process safety are known to extend beyond technical factors into the domain of human and management factors. CCPS identified twenty elements of RBPS that spans four themes as summarised in the illustration below.
Integrity Management Systems (IMS) in all notable O&G operations are based on the above principles. Major companies have developed implementation schemes based on these principles that are tailored to company-specific interpretations and objectives.
As an independent service provider, Asset Integrity Engineering (AIE) has wide exposure to IM systems across a diverse spread of customers and has developed and customised systems for clients to integrate with their existing practices and procedures. The maturity and rigour of these practices can be seen in the fact that investors, operators and insurers accept the basis and underlying practices as a benchmark against which to audit operational risk in the O&G industry.
Why then are there still process safety accidents in the industry that causes loss of life, damage to the environment and the destruction of billions of dollars of shareholder interests? AIE takes the view that this happens not because the industry does not know how to manage process safety, but because there is a tendency for implementation protocols to erode and break down over time due to a range of operational factors including:
- Adverse market conditions that place constraints on operational expenditure for the management of risks.
- Mergers and acquisitions that leads to a change in management structures resulting in a combination of:
- Uncertainty in the commitment to existing IM systems leading to a decline in the commitment to process safety.
- Lack of continuity and coherence between merging systems that results in the gaps or overlaps between practices and procedures.
- Breakdown in the continuous improvement cycle facilitated by management reviews.
- Cost-driven poor quality of integrity management services in the industry that leads to a breakdown of control and traceability in risk management systems and data – this is particularly hard to recover in large assets.
It is easy to see how such factors may lead to disillusionment and incoherence in the RBPS cycle illustrated in the figure above. While it is the intent of the Management of Change (MOC) process, embedded in IM systems, to manage the risks associated with change, MOC processes are notoriously difficult to maintain and are often the first process that is compromised as a result of change.
The 2018 Petrotechnics survey on Process Safety found that although there is 83% agreement that process safety is embedded within management structures at the highest level, 86% of participants acknowledged that there were gaps between the intended and actual implementation of the process safety management plans.
These statistics are aligned with AIE’s own industry experience and it has become one of our focal points to assist clients in optimising IM systems that are both aligned with existing company structures and that can be fully implemented with minor modification to existing practices. Our philosophy is to leverage technology to relieve the operational burden of maintaining expert knowledge and systems. We have been particularly successful with Veracity CCM, our chemical and corrosion management system which we are now expanding to include online monitoring support and integration.
It remains essential in the quest for operational excellence in the O&G industry to find optimised ways of managing risk, an accomplishment that can only be achieved if the IM system is implemented to fulfill its intended function across all elements of process safety. Technology is playing an increasing support role in reaching this target.