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SAHARA = The Mirage of Process Safety

September 18, 2016

I'm watching TV in the US and, in between the numerous commercials for drugs with potential side effects worse than the conditions they are treating, came across this simple message:

Why Monitor a Problem if You Don't Fix It?

So, an extension of Dr Edwards Deming "You can’t manage what you don’t measure". This could be your plant and your monitoring has identified some corrosion - so what are you going to do about ? You've only got a limited budget so have to invest wisely.

Thanks to improved technology, there is no shortage of (big) data and a wealth of guidance on Process Safety Performance Indicators, including API 754 (recently revised), HSG 254, the IChemE Safety Centre and the CCPS, but what are these KPI (that you so diligently monitor) actually telling you?

The conundrum is how to spread the resources proportionately. Remember this is only a snapshot of the "health" of your plant/process and you can't relax even when you are "Green" as it is definitely not "fit and forget".

Ultimately, whilst we may strive to reduce the risk to be ALARP (As Low As Reasonably Practicable) we have to accept that we can only achieve SAHARA (Safety As High As Reasonably Affordable) or afford Safety As High as Reasonably Achievable (in nuclear speak) i.e. how to get the most integrity for your money (or the least bang for your buck).

Imagine the Sahara as a desert of Information, where each grain of sand is a piece of Data and whilst we may wish to drink at the fount of Knowledge, that oasis of Wisdom that we are heading for may in fact be a mirage i.e. the illusion of Process Safety.

I offer you SAHARA as the word of the week, and leave you with the following, equally memorable, Deming quotes:

  • “In God we trust; all others must bring data.” 

  • “If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing”.

  • “It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best”.

  • “There is no substitute for knowledge.”

  • “The most important things cannot be measured.”

  • “You can expect what you inspect.“

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