Safety: Steady as She Goes

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 @ 06:01 PM gHale

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of stories looking forward to the new year and beyond for safety and security in the manufacturing automation sector. This week, ISSSource looks at safety.

By Gregory Hale
There is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind safety is job one in any manufacturing enterprise. But like every good marketing program, for the coming year safety professionals need to keep hammering home the message.

With today’s breakneck speed of change, a shortage of truly skilled engineering professionals, and experienced workers getting ready to retire to a golf course near you, safety is more important today than it ever has been.

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That means the growth of process safety will continue its upward trend as more companies come to grips with the idea safety means keeping systems up and running and productive.

Safety Rewards
Safety and productivity are not mutually exclusive and companies that focus on safety are able to reap huge financial rewards.

“Great culture is a very good thing, but bad things can happen so there has to be more to it than that,” said Steven Ludwig, program manager for safety at Rockwell Automation, during a talk late last year on improving safety performance at the EHS Today’s Safety Leadership Conference. “We try to measure safety by the level of injuries, but we need to look at the level of risk we are putting people in. Safety will not be achieved without productivity and cultural commitment.”

When defining best in class safety, Ludwig said it is possible for a manufacturer to reduce their injury rate by one half, increase overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) by 5 to 7 percent and reduce unscheduled downtime by 2 to 4 percent. If that happened it would mean huge savings that could add to the bottom line. The catch is, though, everyone has to be on the same page.

An Aberdeen Group study talks about the three tiers of safety levels. The top tier is best in class and has 90 percent OEE, 0.2 percent of repeat accident rate, 0.05 percent of injury frequency rate and 2 percent of unscheduled asset downtime.

That compares to the laggard or third tier of performers that have a 76 percent OEE, a 10 percent repeat accident rate, 3 percent injury frequency rate and 14 percent of unscheduled asset downtime.

In the middle there is the industry average that has 85 percent OEE, 2.4 percent repeat accident rate, 0.9 percent injury frequency rate and 6 percent unscheduled asset downtime.

Ludwig pointed out what differentiated best-in-class manufacturers from their peers:
• Culture (behavior): The company DNA from upper management showing total support, cross-functional safety teams, observable safety initiatives.
• Compliance (procedural): Established risk management processes, procedures, and standards to identify, prioritize and mitigate risks.
• Capital (technology): Investments in technologies that improve safety and productivity. Contemporary safety solutions and technologies are a viable investment with an ROI.

“Top performers want to show how they can use safety as a productivity driver,” he said.

For manufacturers to be great safety companies they have to understand that safety equals performance. One cannot be greater than the other.

With $20 billion in annual losses in the process industry with 80 percent of that being preventable and operating errors make up 42 percent, or $6.7 billion of that total.

In a down market, the goal is to keep people safe and pocket some of those losses. That means organizations with a vigorous safety culture are in a more secure position to avoid accidents and add potentially lost revenue to the bottom line.

In the end, it all comes down to risk management and what risk users are willing to accept. If a company has a safety culture and a safety vision, they would create a framework to live the vision and communicate that vision.

“You see operations, engineers and safety experts where they don’t talk too much to each other, we have silos and it does effect what is happening,” said Luis Duran, product manager for safety systems at ABB.

Down Market
There is no doubt major industries are facing tough times. The oil and gas industry is seeing lows in revenues for a barrel of oil they have not seen in decades.

But that does not mean they are walking away from safety. It does mean, however, they will not be boosting safety, but rather maintaining a safe posture.

“The question is what do you do to keep it in some form of health,” said Steve Elliott, a senior director at Schneider Electric. “You might do a health check to see if it is OK, but you might not put it in the garage for an overhaul. The industry got fat and happy when oil prices where high and didn’t think about how they were doing things. Instead they were thinking about getting it out of ground, processing it and selling it. Who would have thought the world was drowning in oil.

“Safety is a long game. At the end of the day, you pay for safety at some point in the life of an asset and if you neglect it now and you have an incident, you will pay for it; if a regulator comes in, you will pay for it.”

So the idea is the industry needs to keep moving forward with safety.

“I think everybody knows they have to continue in safety,” Elliott said. “Somebody at Total told me ‘first and foremost I have to protect the integrity of the asset. If I have to paint the vessel to stop corrosion, then it has to be done because I have to maintain the asset and I have to keep it running.’”

M&A Fever
With the economic climate leaning toward mergers and acquisitions, that can lead to safety issues percolating to the top.

“I think one of the other shifts is with all the divestitures going on in the marketplace, with some companies selling off some their assets, I think that will drive some safety issues when people realize some of things they are buying,” Elliott said. “That will drive some of the upgrade business.”

One case in point Elliott discussed was the soon-to-close $51 billion merger between BG and Shell.

“I was working with BG before their merger deal with Shell. They were going through a process of defining the minimum standards for their assets and then what the gold standard looks like. First and foremost everything had to attain an acceptable minimum level, that was not an option. Then we need to look at where do go from there. Shell buying BG is going to bring them a different challenge. When I talk to the Shell guys, they like to think they have been fortunate to not have an incident because they have been in control of their destiny because they designed and built their assets, but by now purchasing BG assets, they are buying a whole mature install base that doesn’t necessarily meet Shell’s definition of best.”

Securing Safety
During this past year more manufacturing automation professionals understood the idea that safety and security do play hand-in-hand. While some principals do differ, the idea of understanding risk and mitigating that risk are the same.

Differences come into play when you look at the constant change evolving in security where countermeasures need to change almost on a daily basis, which flies in the face of the set and forget mentality that prevails in the industry. Add on top of that, the maturity level on the security front is not as evident as it is for safety.

On the other hand, safety has well-defined standards and practices where safety professionals have a greater degree of confidence the system as it stands should provide a degree of safety for the process and the facility. Safety and security need to provide a united front where one area can learn and share expertise from the other.

“To me the voice of the market says you cannot be safe if you are not secure and you cannot be secure if you are not safe,” Duran said. “They are different disciplines, but they are tied together. Security is more than just the safety system, it can affect the entire operation and infrastructure. That is one area where there will be a lot of activity. People are starting the feel the concern is real – finally.

“So now it is more of what do we do now? So people are more active in securing their plants and making it safe. The sense of urgency is much greater.”

There will be a continuing effort to update and upgrade aging safety systems.

“I have seen safety systems for some time, but if you think about a refinery that has its automation infrastructure in place for 30 years and they have been patching and keeping it together for that long, now it is the time for them to do some investments in and improve them to extend the lifecycle of the plant and make it more efficient and manage production under tighter more challenging rates,” Duran said. “At the same time they need to address requirements in safety and security.”

Regulations Force the Issue
The idea the manufacturing automation sector needs more regulations is appalling to most people, but let’s face it, in most cases, organizations will not add safety unless it ends up dictated by law.

“Not to be an ultra regulatory guy, but unless safety is forced and given direction, then users won’t do it,” Duran said.

In one case, Duran discussed a similar scenario. “A lot of companies have been avoiding compliance to environmental regulations for so long, they are now catching up since the regulations were just now beginning to start up. They knew for five years the regulations were going to take place, but they waited for the last minute. That is what it is like in safety. Safety is more active in areas that are enforcing it more.”

Baby Boomers
With Baby Boomers getting ready to leave the industry, does that put more reliance on automating safety system?

“It is a double-edged sword,” Duran said. “On one hand, the people retiring have a level of expertise. But on the other hand, they might be affecting the adoption of new technologies, or they might be doing things the way they have always done it compared to what needs to be done by today’s standards.”

Elliott agrees.

“I have had conversations where there are some people that said the fear was losing the expertise and knowledge, but the new guys are coming in and asking questions because they don’t know. The older guys were resistant to change because they always did it this way, where the new guys will ask why do we do it this way? They will question and challenge us.”

In the end, safety for this year, and the coming years, will remain steady as she goes and continue to keep workers and the surrounding areas safe while boosting productivity and contributing to the bottom line. That is job one.
Gregory Hale is the Editor and Founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source (