US may move away from prescriptive process safety

posted Jul 11, 2013, 5:58 AM by Niels Jensen
In a recent hearing in the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works  related to the ammonium nitrate explosion in West, Texas and the  more recent Williams Olefins explosion the chairperson of the US Chemical Safety Board Rafael Moure-Eraso hinted that a changed approach to process safety could be needed in the USA.

At the end of his prepared statement he said that the current situation some of the positives are;

"Following the Chevron refinery fire last year, and acting on CSB recommendations, California is poised to triple the number of dedicated process safety inspectors ... funded by industry fees.

Another promising approach is the 'safety case' - successfully used in other nations, which insurers say have much lower petrochemical accidents rates than we do.

Companies identify and commit to follow the best safety standards from around the world, subject to approval and oversight by a competent, well-funded regulator. Many experts believe this is the best safety regime for complex, technological industries, rather than the US system which calls upon a prescriptive and often outdated rule book."

As a past teacher of risk assessment to chemical engineering students at DTU for more than 10 years I  can only agreed. However, it is important that the entities given commercial permits to different activities are aware of the risk involved and know when to ask for advice outside ones own organisation. In my view it is the duty of state legislators to ensure that facilities are covered no mater where they locate themselves.

During the course at DTU groups of students should prepare a safety report according to the EU Seveso II directive including aspects such as site selection, and transportation routes for raw materials and products. The object was not to make them experts at HAZOP, FMEA, ETA or any other tool, but to give them a overview of the complexity and bread of preparing a 'safety case' according to the EU Seveso II directive. 

The course continue to this day, and I know international students are most welcome. It is my experience that multicultural groups add an extra dimensions to the group work by giving students insights into the different regulatory regimes in different countries around the world.

Safepark Consultancy would be most happy to participate in the development of similar courses for chemical engineering students elsewhere or for groups of professionals from industry or regulators.