US refiners over rely on workplace injury data – chem safety board

24 July 2012 01:13  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--US refiners rely too much on data from personal workplace injuries and not enough on other information that might warn of dangers before catastrophic events occur, Chemical Safety Board (CSB) officials said on Monday.

The CSB met in Houston to discuss process safety measurements for the petroleum industry. The first day of the two-day hearing ended with panel discussions on the petrochemical industry's response to CSB recommendations and a broader overview of other process management systems already in place.

The safety board earlier announced it had voted to classify the trade group American Petroleum Institute's (API) response to the CSB's earlier recommendation to develop an effective indicator system of potential safety problems following the deadly 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas.

The CSB said the API was " moving in the right direction, but that more remains to be done to meet the intent" of CSB's recommendations.

CSB officials said the committee that developed the API's so-called Recommended Practice 754 relied too heavily on measures of personal workplace injuries, such as slips and falls at facilities, and worker illnesses.

The API committee insufficiently developed metrics for measuring both "leading" and "lagging" indicators in process safety management that might warn of dangers before catastrophic events occur, the CSB said .

Kelly Keim, a chief process safety engineer with ExxonMobil Chemical and a member of the RP 754 Task Force, said the task force included representatives from a variety of stakeholder groups, including academia, appropriate scientific disciplines, labour groups, trade associations and governmental regulatory agencies.

Keim said that the document recognises that "there is a continuum from most lagging to most leading indicators." In the end, he said, the definitions are of little consequence, since any event can be both a leading and lagging indicator of larger problems.

Since being published, Keim said, RP 754 has been adopted by companies comprising 98% of the US petrochemical refining capacity, as well as by facilities in other countries.

Jordan Barab, deputy assistant US secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), told the CSB that the agency found after the 2005 Texas City explosion that BP had been engaging in "the exact same pattern of violations".

OSHA sent a letter to "the entire petrochemical industry" outlining its findings, which showed that many companies were engaging in practices that jeopardised process safety.

Furthermore, Barab said, industry relied too much on worker reportable injury and illness rates as a measure of process safety.

The problem for OSHA, Barab said, is that does not have adequate staff and resources to continually inspect all the nation's petrochemical facilities. The development of industry-wide key performance indicators (KPIs) that are effective would help the agency target the right facilities for inspection and potential enforcement, he said.

By a different token, however, Barab said receiving too much information might make it too difficult for OSHA officials to sift through.

"We need indicators that can be communicated to industry, workers, the community and government; indicators that will help us target where to go," he said.
Barab added that the goal should be greater transparency of information, including to the general public.” We are highly interested in working with everybody on a system that develops useful indicators," he said.

Kim Nibarger, a member of the United Steelworkers (USW) health, safety and environment department, told the CSB that the labour union left the RP 754 Task Force because it believed the group was weighted in favour of industry representatives, since each company had its own voting member. The labour representatives found they were unable to bring their own recommendations into the final document, Nibarger said.

Nibarger said that a new effort should be made, with OSHA as a focal point that would add community and environmental groups as stakeholders as well as labour groups in the development of industry-wide performance indicators.

A second panel discussion included representatives from the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE); the US Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC); and Scottish Power, a private energy company that operates in Europe, North and South America.

Each of the panel described their organisation's approach to developing key performance indicators, which all included variations on leading and lagging indicators.

Martin Sedgwick, the head of engineering for Scottish Power, said the company began its effort as a response to the 2005 Texas City explosion.

Sedgwick said the system, finalised in 2010, places emphasis on being understandable by everyone in the company, from the workforce to the CEO, as well as on engaging on-site workers, since "they're the ones we're trying to protect and they're the ones who know what to do".

The hearing concludes Tuesday with a report on the CSB's investigation of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident and panel discussions featuring regulatory, stakeholder and public interest and industry groups.

Follow Ken Fountain in Twitter. (@ICIS_Ken)

By: Ken Fountain

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