Since it was first introduced in the mid-1970s, the HAZOP has become one of the most widely used process hazard analysis (PHA) techniques in the world. The HAZOP is a powerful, systematic risk evaluation tool that allows a robust evaluation of complex systems and processes for the purpose of identifying areas of possible failure. Once the potential failures are identified, the HAZOP follows through with prioritization of actions for risk mitigation.
A good HAZOP should include a team of experts who have a good understanding of every aspect of the process being reviewed. These experts will be instrumental in ferreting out potential failures that could result in damage to the process, loss of product, or serious injuries and even fatalities.
Gaps in the HAZOP study process, however, may lead to inaccurate or insufficient assessment results. The following are 3 Common Pitfalls that can lead to a poor outcome:
1. Unreasonable Time Expectations
A good HAZOP team will be made up of 5-7 experts who will dedicate their time to a thorough analysis of the process. Unfortunately, the day-to-day job demands may distract members of the team from their primary tasks and the HAZOP facilitator may feel pressured to reduce the time allotted for the review. This is a very common pitfall and one of which the HAZOP facilitator should be acutely aware.
The actual time needed to complete the HAZOP will vary based on the complexity of the process, the team’s experience and the availability and accuracy of documentation (e.g. Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs), Process Flow Diagrams (PFDs), operating and maintenance procedures, design specifications, etc.). An experienced facilitator will be able to closely estimate the time required, but the hours and days needed may still need to flex slightly as the review progresses.
The team and facilitator should be mindful of the schedule, and focus on the HAZOP during the allotted time. Stepping in and out of the meetings to handle day to day business, answering phone calls, texts, etc. takes attention away from the task at hand. The value of the HAZOP’s outcome is based on the thoroughness of the review. Plant leaders, team members and facilitators must all be committed to time needed to do it well.
2. Incomplete or Inaccurate Information:
The results of any HAZOP are only as valuable as the information reviewed. It is extremely important to have the most updated chemical and process information available – including P&IDs, PFDs and standard operating procedures. Often, a HAZOP is completed too early in the project and before these documents are finalized. In some cases, the facilitator will recognize this before the team is assembled and reschedule for later in the project. If this is not possible, the team can review some nodes (for which documentation is complete) and come back to those which are still in work. Finalizing a HAZOP with incomplete information may “check the box”, but will not accomplish its full purpose.
Inaccurate information is a bit more of a challenge. While it’s important for the HAZOP team to be familiar with the process, it is of paramount importance that they also be strong technical professionals. Both the team members and the facilitator must have a good understanding of the system and the chemicals / materials utilized. Even the manufacturer’s chemical data sheets or material specifications are only as good as the team members who review and interpret them. This is also a good reason to include the system design engineer on the team.
3. Global Differences::
Facilitation of HAZOPs in international locations may present some language and cultural challenges. The members of the HAZOP team may not be fluent in a common single language. This can make communication more difficult, which may – at best – require an extension of the scheduled time for the meetings. The facilitator should be aware of this possibility in advance and take steps to ensure that all team members can openly participate and be heard. Those who struggle to understand the conversation often remain quiet, which can lead to the loss of information that’s valuable to the review.
In addition to language, there are often cultural differences. Some areas of the world do not utilize a risk-based approach to safety. In most of these cultures, the primary focus is on regulatory compliance – not reducing risk. A HAZOP that is focused on going “above and beyond compliance” may be confusing and lead to arguments among team members. Perhaps even more challenging are cultures where there is a more casual attitude about safety and fail-safe controls. Team members that refuse to believe that employees will make mistakes or will not always follow procedures may try to dissuade others from mandating additional controls to minimize risk.
An experienced facilitator must be prepared for these cultural differences and work diligently to ensure the integrity of the final outcome.
In summary, it’s clear that the primary responsibility of the HAZOP facilitator is the quality of the review. As highlighted by the three pitfalls briefly described here, the facilitator must be an expert in the HAZOP process and be technically competent. This same facilitator must also have the right leadership skills. Whether it’s dealing with the pressures to “shorten the time”, ensuring that the right documentation is available for review or managing relationships between team members – the facilitator must be ready and prepared to take charge to preserve the quality of the outcome.