Reliability, Safety And Cost Savings - Buy One Get Two Free

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Derek Park

Against a background of aging assets and cost reduction, industry is still looking for improvements in safety and productivity. To some this has created a seemingly impossible situation where something has to give, and in some quarters there is an atmosphere of inevitability that something is bound to go wrong. The media, only really interested in industry when there is something bad to report, circle like vultures looking for the next spill, accident or even worse disaster.

What if it were possible to have improved production, reliability and safety whilst still reducing costs?

Well it is possible - in fact it is not that difficult or expensive to achieve. We have seen all too often that cost cutting leads to disaster, so why don’t we turn that around and recognize that improved reliability and integrity lead to better production and reduced costs?

Cynics (and there are many) will say that we can’t have our cake and eat it, but in fact we can. I began work on this article by looking for things we could do today, and at negligible cost, to improve the way we either manage process safety or optimise production. When I looked at my list what struck me was that we don’t need to categorise the items into ‘safety’ or ‘production’ because for every topic we address we get an improvement in both areas. It is a case of ‘buy one get one free’ or even ‘buy one get two free’ if we include the cost savings that will inevitably follow from better reliability.

We have some good integrity systems but things still sometimes go wrong. We need to improve the reliability of these systems and also stop thinking of reliability as something that applies just to plant and hardware. Reliability needs to become intrinsic in everything we do.

So where do we start, what are the top things we should do to get some consistent reliability into our operations?

First, Set Some Priorities.

I have written before about how most organisations spread themselves too thinly over too many things. Important things are ignored even in crucial areas like process safety management and production optimisation. We must tackle the really important things even if it means dumping the rest. We need to do better than hope that one day we will get round to fixing the crucial defects already evident in our operations.

Remember that setting priorities is not a matter of picking right from wrong or good from bad. It is a fact that many good things are unfortunately just low priority and so can’t be done. Also beware of letting other people set your priorities!

The frontline staff in any organisation know where the critical problems are so why waste time and money on months of analysis? Get into action.

If you are reading this and think that you ‘might get round to doing something about it someday’ then you may as well forget it. You have just fallen at the first fence, the fence called ‘setting priorities’.

Second, Get The Procedures Right.

After an incident one top priority is often to review operating procedures. If we have to bend the rules to get things done then the procedures are clearly wrong. If this state of affairs is acknowledged and ignored then when there is a serious incident somebody is probably going to end up in court. Prosecution lawyers can make an easy case from out of date procedures!

That said, we should ensure that things are fit for purpose. Volumes of unread and unused procedures are simply bad procedures. Talk to staff; they will know what needs to be done. Put simply either get the procedures right or ditch them; don’t just turn a blind eye.

Third, Review Handovers.

In any continuous and hazardous activity, good handovers are vital. Poor handover procedure has played a role in many major incidents - perhaps most significantly on Piper Alpha. Also, many unplanned shutdowns occur in the period immediately following a shift or crew change.

My own experience of offshore crew change handovers varies from a 24 hour overlap to a quick wave across a windswept helideck, but today there are many good examples and some good proprietary systems. They just need to be used properly and that usually comes down to allowing sufficient time to do a proper job.

Fourth, Make Sure Of Staff Engagement

It is worrying that our people are increasingly less and less likely to be involved in the decision making process. Not only does this frustrate people, most of whom want to contribute, but it also ignores the fact that more often than not, frontline workers know what needs to be done regarding the safety and operability of plant. Staff need to be able to use their discretion and experience to help decide what is important.

A manager who asks for help is not weak; he is simply using all the strength that the organisation can offer. This is not about suggestion boxes or feedback forms, but about managing in a way that continuously exploits the full potential of the business.

Remember that lots of things have to come together to make a successful and productive operation. It is not just about opening wells and running a production plant. In reality, we are continually faced with a series of challenges such as corrosion, machine reliability, varying quality, people performance and the rest, so life in effect becomes a series of ‘mini projects’ which need to be continuously managed. This can only be done if we can get frontline and support staff out of their silos and working flexibly together.

Finally, Get Some Rubber on the Road, Today and Every Day

Nothing happens unless people do something. It is surprising how often the best laid schemes come to nothing. We rev the engine, spin the wheels but never actually move.

We use lack of resource as an excuse for doing nothing, whereas in reality we just need to stop spending time and money on things that simply do not matter. Even when we do get things moving, it is not enough to get things right once; we have to do it today, tomorrow and every day.

Many operations have adopted the idea of the ‘perfect day’, based on no accidents, no unplanned shutdowns, no spills and the like. Properly defined, the idea of the perfect day is a good one; it keeps the eye on the ball or put another way it makes sure we are addressing the right priorities every day.

Our industry is still experiencing incidents and we can’t just hope for the best. We have some good integrity systems but things still fall through the cracks. What can we do? Reliability is the key and looking at the list above is a perhaps a good place to start, remembering that a reliable operation is also safe and cost-effective one.



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