Optimizing HAZOP for Maximum Effectiveness.

Every workplace has risks and hazards that can lead to injuries. Loss of property and life. These risk and hazards pose a threat to everyone involved and thus, there is a need to identify these hazards and take preventive action. This need is even greater if you’re part of an oil refinery, a chemical processing plant, or any other chemical processing plant because of the hazardous nature of certain substances. 

Most investigation on an incident related to process safety ends with one question: how can we prevent this from happening again. One of the best ways to do it? Hazard identification and risk assessment. Before we can take actions to stop any hazard from evolving into something catastrophic, we must understand it. 

There are different methodologies that can be employed to understand and assess risks such as Preliminary Hazards Analysis (PHA), Screening Level Risk Analysis (SLRA), Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) but the most popular one by far is Hazard and Operability Analysis (HAZOP). Although a qualitative method, HAZOP is chosen by most professionals because of the balance between structure and flexibility make it suitable for a multitude of applications. HAZOP, if done correctly, can help ensure that threats within the process do not go unchecked.

Almost all accidents that happen in our industry could have been prevented but weren’t because of three reasons:

  • Hazard identification was lacking
  • HAZOP wasn’t set up properly or managed properly (HAZOP needs an industry expert)
  • Not giving enough attention to life-critical systems
  • Failure to establish proper control strategies 

HAZOP may seem time-consuming and costly at first but as a process safety consultant with years of experience, I can say with certainty that HAZOP will save more time and money in the long-run (remember Trevor Kletz’s famous quote?). But as I mentioned, HAZOP is a highly structured hazards identification tool which means not doing proper preparation and support will reduce its overall effectiveness. But by doing the following things ahead of time, you can ensure the maximum effectiveness of your next HAZOP study:

  • Assemble your Process Safety Information (PSI) ahead of time, as far out as possible, unless there are MOCs and turnarounds that might affect these documents. Latest (and verified) piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs), safety data sheets (SDS), and cause-and-effect diagram (C&E) 
  • While having an in-house process engineer or staff facilitate can reduce cost, your study will be much more effective if it is lead by a professional, an expert in the field. HAZOP studies can be time-consuming and require important personnel to step away from their jobs but an experienced HAZOP facilitator can improve the process by providing experience with the subject process as well as with the methodology in use.. I’m an advocate for visualization of information, so facilitators who utilize technology are at an advantage. You should look for past experience, good references, and strong knowledge of your industry in a HAZOP facilitator. 
  • There’s a lot to be done so you want to appoint the HAZOP facilitator as soon as possible. This allows the facilitator and the site time to prepare [LINK OF PARTICIPANT PREP HERE]for the study, define nodes and discuss with the team if needed, gather PSI and other necessary information
  • Remember that HAZOP isn’t the only tool for hazard identification. You have other methods at your disposal too – choose one that best suits your needs. For example, if you’re looking for a quicker alternative that will help you find any potential hazardous scenarios, consider using a cause-based methodology, or “What-if?”. You can also consult a HAZOP facilitator if you’re not sure which method will be best for you.
  • Realize that a HAZOP study takes time, therefore if it can be helped unrealistic deadlines should not be set by the management or project schedule. There are many accepted ways of estimating HAZOP length, but your best bet is to work with the facilitator and the team. Also communicate with leadership why the schedule is such early on.
  • As a program coordinator or manager, take an active part in the study by conducting constant checkups, commending the team (with snacks) and supporting them through the leadership review of the recommendations.

It’s true that accidents can never be completely eliminated but having a planned and systematic framework for carrying out even the routine tasks can greatly reduce the risk of an accident. Organizations must take the initiative to make use of techniques like HAZOP to protect the interests of stakeholders. 

If you’d like to read more about HAZOP and Process Safety Management (PSM), take a look at this article.  Some of today’s biggest organizations depend heavily on hydrocarbons and chemicals that are volatile and can lead to deadly consequences. Though we cannot stop the use of these chemicals right away, we can use risk assessment and hazard identification techniques like HAZOP to decrease the possibilities of an explosion or toxic release significantly.