Environment & Safety Gas Processing/LNG Maintenance & Reliability Petrochemicals Process Control Process Optimization Project Management Refining

2021 AFPM Annual Meeting Virtual Edition: Reinventing safety post-2020—Digitalization, pandemic, sustainability, cybersecurity

CONSTANTINE LAU, Schneider Electric

I remember a conversation a few years ago with a friend who had just become the plant manager of the largest petrochemical complex in the world. I asked him what keeps him up at night, and he replied without hesitation: “Safety!” This certainly resonates with every plant manager around the world. However, several major interruptions in 2020 should prompt us to rethink and reinvent safety strategies.

Safety is a top priority in the oil and gas industry. Like all businesses, oil and gas business performance is measured by profitability with key performance indicators (KPIs), such as return on capital employed (ROCE); however, safety is equally important and is typically measured by KPIs like injury, lost time and production loss. For oil and gas operations, safety is a constant threat due to the hazardous nature of hydrocarbons, including—but not limited to—fire, explosion, toxicity, corrosiveness and asphyxiation. Industrial incidents can cost human lives and huge financial losses. They often generate major environmental pollution that can damage the public perception of a company. Essentially, safety is the license to operate.

Safety is sustainability. Health, safety and environmental (HSE) are usually bundled together as a corporate KPI. Safety and environmental compliance regulations are increasingly stringent around the world, especially with the increased pressure for sustainability. With the COVID-19 pandemic, safety has taken on an extra component with a renewed focus on personnel health and wellness. Remote working and operations have become a normal and effective solution. Digitalization offers tremendous opportunity for oil and gas companies to improve safety and sustainability throughout the entire lifecycle of the plant (FIG. 1).

Cybersecurity is digital safety. According to a Morgan Stanley survey, cybersecurity is by far the paramount concern for the adoption of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)/digital transformation—cybersecurity must be addressed before implementing digital transformation: the average cost of a breach is $3.8 MM. Another IT survey stated that 70% of employees do not understand cybersecurity.

FIG. 1. Reinventing safety in the oil and gas industry.

Cybersecurity is digital safety. According to a Morgan Stanley survey, cybersecurity is by far the paramount concern for the adoption of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)/digital transformation—cybersecurity must be addressed before implementing digital transformation: the average cost of a breach is $3.8 MM. Another IT survey stated that 70% of employees do not understand cybersecurity.

Aside from financial and intellectual property loss, cybersecurity intrusions in terms of malicious intent can easily compromise plant safety to cause hazardous process conditions and automation system destabilization. Considering that the average time that passes between breach discovery and the reporting date is 49.6 days, a cybersecurity intrusion is literally the worst nightmare for plant operations.

Safety relies on people, process and technology. Many CEOs will assert that their company’s most important asset is its people. An effective safety culture is a top-down commitment, and people are needed to execute work; however, people make mistakes. Processes are a series of procedures/workflows to achieve a goal, and strong processes ensure consistency. One limitation of processes is that consistency does not necessarily generate efficiency and quality. Innovative technologies can help automate the process, but too much technology can discourage users from adopting it. Ultimately, technology is there to support people and to make the process easier and more effective.

The “Swiss cheese model” layer approach to mitigate and prevent risk. Industrial incidents occur and are usually due to holes in the Swiss cheese model when each layer fails to prevent and deter the accident. Examples of process safety layers can include:

  • Process control systems
  • Safety systems
  • Standard operating procedures (SOPs)
  • Training
  • Reliability inspection audits
  • Maintenance rounds and checks
  • Management controls.

Safety is a lifecycle strategy. The proven way to improve safety is through prevention and mitigation across the lifecycle of the plant: design, build, operate, inspect and maintain. Five lifecycle strategies from the viewpoint of process safety, cybersecurity and electrical safety within the oil and gas and petrochemical industries are reviewed below.

Five process safety and cybersecurity lifecycle strategies:

  1. Good design—Each facility should have a process design incorporating safety protocols from hazard and operability (HAZOP), process hazard analysis (PHA), layer of protection analysis (LOPA), and safety integrity level (SIL)/safety instrumented function (SIF) studies. Developing a digital twin of the plant and its assets will impact the plant’s safety throughout its lifecycle. For example, dynamic simulation and operator training based on a digital twin enable operators to handle abnormal hazard situations. Incorporate cybersecurity IEC 62443 design practices into IT and OT.
  2. Well built—An integrated control and safety system automates processes and provides the most effective prevention against abnormal situations. It is important to incorporate cybersecurity IEC 62443 design into IT/OT interconnection, device hardening, remote access points and firewalls.
  3. Safely operated—Operations change dynamically, so processes, people and technologies must also evolve. An alarm management solution prioritizes alarms and resolves alarm flooding issues. Safety data analytics systems monitor and review safety workflows, and make recommendations to repair or modify. Operator training systems and augmented reality (AR) software solutions ensure operator skills are updated. Remote operations to improve worker safety are enabled by digitalization technologies like cloud and advanced analytics. Cybersecurity detection, awareness and training will ensure safe operations.
  4. Properly inspected—Procedural automation and mobile operator rounds ensure assets are performing reliably and safety procedures are followed. Cybersecurity is at the top of the list for most Chief Information Officers (CIOs), so a cybersecurity audit can be a good starting point.
  5. Well maintained—Control systems modernization is considered when the system’s age and reliability become an issue. Asset performance management (APM) solutions ensure the reliability of instrument devices, valves, compressors, pumps, etc. Cybersecurity response recovery procedures and software patch management are essential components of a robust maintenance program. Adequate personal safety measures [personal protective equipment (PPE), access security, fall protection, etc.] protects workers from injuries and sickness.

Similar to process safety, electrical safety also depends on a layered approach to mitigate and prevent risk. The most effective electrical safety strategy is prevention. The goal is to protect people and prevent fires and other incidents.

Five electrical safety lifecycle strategies:

  1. Good design—Review the electrical system design with power system experts during the design phase.
  2. Well built—Incorporate standard built-in design power system like MV switchboards, LV circuit breakers and motor control centers against electrical hazards. Consider additional innovative solutions like Arc Flash detection, wireless self-powered thermal monitoring, enclosure-based arc resistance, on-board racking, remote racking, remote control, etc.
  3. Safely operated—Conduct electrical safety training and secure operations with haptic virtual reality solutions.
  4. Properly inspected—Audit the electrical system with a modernization, performance and safety (MPS) enterprise study, and/or an Arc Flash study.
  5. Well maintained—Safely maintain, connect and monitor electrical assets with remote analytics and expert diagnostics. Incorporate adequate personal safety measures like PPE, access security, fall protection, etc.

Safety will always remain the top priority for oil and gas companies, but safety should also evolve with emerging trends like sustainability, cybersecurity and the new procedures initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital technologies will enable oil and gas companies to reinvent safety strategies.


About the author:

CONSTANTINE LAU is a Global Director of the oil and gas segment with Schneider Electric, and has more than 20 years of experience in industrial automation and software. He is responsible for oil and gas segment business strategies, sales and marketing programs. Lau has published numerous articles on advanced software topics, such as advanced process control and optimization, AI systems and Fieldbus. He graduated with dual engineering degrees from the University of Texas, and an MBA from the University of Houston, Texas.

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