Risk Management: Is Your Plant Safe Enough?

by | Jan 21, 2021 | Control & Safety Systems, Measurement Instrumentation

Nick Pinto

Nick Pinto

Global Product Manager

In a Hydrocarbon Processing article, Emerson’s Nick Pinto considers the question, how safe is safe enough?

We want to believe that while refineries and chemical plants are inherently dangerous places to work, companies have made them safe enough that employees are willing to come in the gates every day. So, how should we react to the events of 2020? I’m not talking about COVID-19, I’m pointing out a bit of recent history: There were three major refinery fires in the U.S. between February and April, 2020.

When those kinds of things still happen, we should all ask, “How safe is my plant? Am I working safely?” That kind of self-examination is the main point of my article in the December issue of Hydrocarbon Processing. It is important to take a hard look at technical and human factors, in other words, safety systems and employee training. Let’s think about the latter first.

Anyone researching major safety incidents of the last 10 yr—20 yr will find that plant personnel can certainly be a major contributing factor, if not the outright cause. This is often the result of short staffing and/or inadequate training, and, sometimes, violation of procedures to meet production goals. It can also come in the form of management cutting maintenance budgets, resulting in malfunctioning instrumentation remaining unfixed, and also leaving operators with poor situational awareness. Bad information results in bad decisions, and, consequently, in undesirable results.

You can answer for yourself if you believe you have been trained well. Much hinges on your company’s safety culture and your willingness to follow the training. But as just mentioned, there is still a critical technical element as a facility must have adequate working instrumentation to support situational awareness—workers shouldn’t have to guess what’s happening. Good information helps them draw on their training and respond properly. Even the best trained workers depend on safety systems.

The ultimate yardstick for measuring a safety system’s effectiveness is how well the plant runs and if all its employees go home alive and well every day. Success may be the result of a very well-designed system operated by conscientious and well-trained employees. Conversely, at a more haphazard facility, it may be the result of luck combined with people who can improvise.

Safety systems depend on many things, but they begin with sensors. A fire suppression system can’t put out a fire unless it knows a fire is burning, and it must not turn on when there is no fire. The first step is determining when something flammable, either gas or liquid, has escaped its containment. Gas detectors perform that task, such as Emerson’s Net Safety Millennium II SC310 Catalytic Bead Combustible Gas Sensor. It provides versatile, robust and field proven performance in a rugged package designed for the most extreme industrial environments.

If a fire does break out, it is critical to detect it as quickly as possible, which falls to Emerson’s Rosemount 975MR Multi-Spectrum Infrared Flame Detector. It analyzes multi-spectral signals by utilizing three separate IR sensors to detect fuel and gas fires at long distances.

When these and other sensors are incorporated into well-designed systems, everyone can feel a lot safer. What’s happening at your facility? Is everything as it should be, or do you still depend a bit on luck?

Visit the Flame and Gas Detection pages at Emerson.com for more on technologies and solutions for gas detectors and sensors, gas leak detectors, flame detectors, and aspirators. You can also connect and interact with other engineers in the Oil & Gas and Chemical Groups at the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.