By Gregory Hale
It is no secret global warming is continuing to grow and present a problem for the world. It is also no secret the manufacturing sector is a large contributor to this world-wide dilemma, however, as the industry heads toward a lofty, but achievable goal of carbon neutrality, process safety management systems can play a vital role.

“Basically, we can no longer consume the resources as we have done previously,” said Steve Elliott, Senior Offer Director – Safety and Critical Control at Schneider Electric. “We have to be more astute to what we’re taking from the planet, but also what we’re putting back in terms of pollution, pollutants and everything else. So, we have to look at how we can consume less and how we can produce or emit less to provide a more sustainable planet for generations to come.”

In the drive to become carbon neutral, there is no doubt electrification comes into play when generating power for the process. But there are other issues that present problems during or after production. Take flaring for example. A shutdown or a disturbance in the process can cause flaring which puts higher levels of dangerous chemicals into the environment. To keep flaring in check, a highly fault-tolerant process safety management system has the potential to reduce the likelihood of an incident which leads to a sustainable and a more environmentally safe environment.

Another way is to replace traditional hardwired I/O with digital solutions for critical alarms, bypasses, and functional testing, which can reduce energy consumption.

Or it could be how sustainability becomes intrinsic within a product ecosystem like green manufacturing, operations, less HVAC, smaller equipment rooms, less transport costs, decarbonizing the supply chain, and green premium offers.

They can all reach higher sustainability levels and could show a sizable amount of CO2 savings in terms of tons saved.

Sustainability a Core Value
Like safety, sustainability has to be a core value – a commitment everyone must make from suppliers to end users. It is not just about one organization making a difference, rather, it is all companies working to make a difference at all times. They all add up.

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“Four or five years ago, we talked about profitable safety – how safety was always seen as a necessary cost – but nobody equated safety and profit together,” Elliott said. “Over the last five years or so, we collectively have been helping relate the value of process safety management and equating that to performance on a P&L sheet. Now is the time we need to shift that even further to consider sustainable and profitable safety.

“What we are doing is trying to make the correlation between the sustainability energy transition and how safety has a part to play in that,” Elliott said.

The industry has always equated safety from a health and safety perspective. Trips, spills, falls, occupational safety, environmental contamination, and even process safety management comes into it. But now those in the industry need to look at how to achieve sustainability gains with safety programs and initiatives.

Baby Steps
If you look at any one of those potential changes, the shear enormity of the initiatives could stall any form of progress, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, why not look at small marginal gains, which can add up to big gains over the long haul. Outside of shutting down facilities, the huge gains in CO2 reduction are just not going to be there. Rather, it is the small marginal gains that will get them there – the catch is it just won’t happen overnight.

“One thing I have found is that most organizations tend to set big goals, then try and tackle them all at once in the pursuit of immediate returns, and invariably, end up falling short of the intended results,” Elliott said. “Often the best way to improve safety and sustainability performance is to find marginal gains, small, incremental improvements that can add up to a big difference.”

Elliott said there is no better example of this than the British cycling team. For decades they never won a cycling medal at any major event. Sir Dave Brailsford, former performance director of British Cycling, revolutionized the sport using the theory of marginal gains. He believed if you make a one percent improvement in lots of tiny areas, the cumulative benefits would be extraordinary. The theory of marginal gains has been credited for vaulting the British cycling team from a mediocre performer to 16 gold medals over two Olympics, and seven Tour de France wins in eight years.

Individually, each incremental change may have seemed unnecessary or random, but collectively, they helped create a powerhouse with a level of success that became the envy of the cycling world.

“It is a lot easier to focus on manageable improvements where you see specific results than to chase big ideas that may lead nowhere,” Elliott said.

One of the areas to find these gains comes with digitalization which will foster safety and efficiency improvements.

When you hear digitalization with its focus on making efficiency gains through artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, digital twins, cloud, and replacing human activities with machines, you might not think of safety.

In fact, all those digital components are applicable to safety, and provide a tremendous opportunity to reduce operational risk, enhance safety performance, and make those marginal gains. Gaining more visibility into the safety environment helps step toward making incremental improvements.

Along those lines, worker health can end up improved by using smart digital wearables, drones and robots can reduce human exposure to hazardous conditions, active safety monitoring allows for greater visibility to makes decisions, and automated compliance management streamlines safety performance reporting and audits.

Visibility is King
It is possible to achieve active safety monitoring where all levels of the organization can quickly see the overall risk posture and the levels of operating risk for each asset, each region, each line of business, each unit, even down to each piece of equipment. It is also possible to actively monitor the safeguards and layers of protection and understand current risk gaps. Also, after gathering data, it is possible to do “what-if” forecasting for future risk modeling.

If you go back to the flaring example, you don’t want a fault on your process safety management system causing a spurious trip, or an unnecessary shutdown that may lead to an unwanted flaring event.

Elliott gave an example of a typical plant that has an aggregate processing capacity of 300 million cubic feet per day. Assuming it has a “typical” associated gas composition, and you can avoid one spurious trip per year thanks to system resilience via active safety monitoring, it’s possible to save 35 metric tons CO2 equivalent per hour, that’s 840 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per day if it’s a significant flaring event.

“We took a few actual examples and calculated the approximate metric tons of CO2 equivalent that could be saved, Elliott said. “While some may not appear that big at first, it is another example of those marginal gains, those small, incremental improvements, that ultimately start to add up year over year. Every metric ton of CO2 reduction is important, every metric ton of CO2 counts.”

Organizations are undergoing a massive digital transformation in an effort to become more productive while at the same time become a solid global citizen to reach sustainability goals to reduce global warming. To that end, safety will play a part.

It all adds up.

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