Later this year the process industry will mark an anniversary it would prefer to forget: 10 years since the explosion at the Buncefield oil storage terminal in Hertfordshire.
The tremors of that explosion continued to be felt long after the actual event, triggering multiple industry and safety authorities investigations and initiatives aimed at ensuring such an incident could never happen again.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take another Buncefield to shake industry out of its complacency
And yet at an industry conference aimed at forming the latest Process Safety Management Strategy (due to be launched at the end of this month), the consensus among many delegates and speakers was that it was only a matter of time until the next major process safety incident occurred in this country.
Why? Because, as Health and Safety Executive (HSE) chairman Judith Hackitt explains, the HSE is still called to hundreds of incidents in the process industries every year, many of which involve loss of containment and fires – exactly what happened at Buncefield.
While it has almost become a cliché to hear companies saying that safety is their “number one priority”, the reality is that for many companies the consideration of safety goes little beyond wearing personal protection equipment.
Just how few understand what process safety is and relates too, and are engaged with the issues, is underlined by Cogent Skills head of workforce development Neil Smith in Process Engineering’sMarch cover feature.
In reviewing the previous Process Safety Management strategy, Smith reveals that the skills bodies had managed to engage less than half of the companies with sites registered under the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations than they had originally hoped to.
According to those speaking at the conference aimed at forming the new strategy, there were two key reasons for the relatively low levels of engagement on process safety: complacency and lack of leadership.
Many will focus on the specifics of a case such as Buncefield to ensure themselves “it would never happen to me”, while in many boardrooms the reputational and cashflow risks posed by process safety incidents are still not fully understood.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take another Buncefield to shake industry out of its complacency and remind boardrooms of the huge risks involved.