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Step into their boots

September 3, 2018

A couple of years ago I facilitated a LOPA study for a Biogas facility which, due to a lack of onsite venues, was held in the Warrington Peace Centre (www.peace-foundation.org.uk). Our host was Wendy Parry (whose tragic loss has just been dramatised in the BBC programme Mother's Day) and I can't tell you the humility & sensitivity of discussing Probable Loss of Life in close proximity to someone who has experience of Actual Loss of Life.

I grew up during 'The Troubles', some 20 miles across the North Channel from Northern Ireland and although it was close enough but far enough away, we were nearer to Belfast than Glasgow so we had Ulster rather than Scottish television and therefore the conflict was indirectly with me daily.

I've worked on facilities which have experienced major accidents (and been on site when they have happened). In some cases, I've known the casualties (survivors) and in others the victims (fatalities) have been unknown to me, and although I 'know' about industrial (or unnatural) death, again - I have not been directly impacted by it.

Meeting Wendy gave us all a reality check that a life is not a statistic in a population and we should treat it with respect.

Whether you're leading a team or part of a study where the effect on people can be significant, take a moment to reflect on the Sense & Sensitivity of your analysis. I'm not suggesting we default to a pessimistic view of all outcome, just don't assume that the answer lies in a book or online, because statistically significant & relevant data isn't always available.

Consultants (Specialists or whatever we call ourselves) don't have to live with the consequences and we must always be mindful of the front-line personnel who are only a pipe or vessel thickness away from the beasts they contain & control. How would we feel if it was our friends or colleagues and when was the last time we had an "out of chair" experience?

How dirty are your overalls?

I recently read the TCE article on Piper Alpha survivor Steve Rae (www.thechemicalengineer.com/features/steve-rae-piper-alpha-survivor/) who strives to create & sustain a wider, more positive safety culture . I encourage you all to read & heed his (and others) wisdom and follow the lead of Step Change in Safety (www.stepchangeinsafety.net/) who bring together Operators and Contractors, Trade Unions, Regulators and the Onshore & Offshore workforce to support collaboration across the industry from the ground (boots) up. Through these initiatives, we are reminded that real lives are at stake, not just 'hypothetical persons'.

Notionally, The Troubles lasted 30 years and we now have peace, however 30 years on from Piper Alpha, we cannot rest easy, this is still a journey - not mission accomplished, certainly as long as there are boots on the ground in harms way.


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