ABB warns of need to dig deeper for signs of process safety ill-health to prevent major accidents

2017-06-22 - White paper suggests leadership and competence are top of the list of concerns

ABB’s engineering and consultancy group today unveiled a new white paper suggesting that more must be done in the process industries internationally to prevent the next major accident.

It introduces the concept of the ‘watermelon effect’, where process safety metrics appear ‘green’ suggesting that everything is under control, and yet digging below the surface reveals signs of ‘red’ indicating ill-health in the arrangements to prevent major accidents.

The ‘watermelon effect’ white paper presents the findings from analysis of feedback and data from senior process safety professionals. It considers whether there is a link between an apparent upturn in large insurance losses in the hydrocarbon industry in 2015 and the drop in the oil price, and asks if this could be affecting safety performance in the sector.

It also investigates what improved metrics are needed to avoid the ‘watermelon effect’ to ensure senior management receive accurate information on the state of risk controls in the business.

Graeme Ellis, Principle Lead Consultant with ABB Consulting and co-author of the white paper said, “Developing a ‘chronic sense of unease’ towards major accidents is seen as a vital step for companies with hazardous facilities to reach the levels of performance being achieved in truly high reliability organisations.

“Major accidents at Texas City and Buncefield in 2005 marked a watershed for the global process industry and led to general agreement that senior leadership is vital in developing an effective process safety culture. Fast forward over a decade however and evidence suggests that large losses are still happening at a consistently high rate across the global process industry.”

When ABB asked process safety professionals for the top issues that they believe present the greatest challenge to maintain progress in process safety and vigilance towards preventing major accidents, the most common area of concern was leadership, followed by competence.

Graeme Ellis added, “It’s concerning that over a decade after Texas City and Buncefield when clear lessons were learned around safety not being the sole responsibility of the Technical Safety Department, that leadership is still believed to be the biggest issue presenting the greatest challenge to process safety progress.

“The industry needs to accelerate efforts to develop effective performance metrics and truly reflect the state of risk controls and allow senior management to target resources to the areas of greatest concern.”

For a full copy of the ABB white paper, go to 'The watermelon effect'