Process safety

Major accidents can result in serious harm - which is why process safety is so important

Process safety means designing our facilities to appropriate standards and using robust engineering principles. It also underlines the importance of having capable people and rigorous operating and maintenance practices.

It starts with taking a systematic approach to identifying and managing the hazards involved throughout our operations’ life cycle - from initial project planning through to closure. If we can’t eliminate a risk, we put measures, or ‘barriers’, in place to reduce or manage it, and ultimately mitigate the consequences should these fail.

For example, pipeline corrosion, operating mistakes and equipment malfunctions are just a few of the possible causes for a spill or loss of primary containment. We take time to understand how people, plant or processes could cause such an event - so that we can apply appropriate management and mitigation measures.

Then we carry out checks to make sure these measures are working properly. This helps us detect and fix problems before an incident occurs. We also conduct checks of selected contractors’ safety management systems.

The fundamentals of how we deliver safe and reliable operations remain unchanged in a lower oil price environment. Our operating management system is good for all seasons, whether the market is weak or strong. Our safety data indicates that our hard work is having an impact. And I see this for myself too through site visits and in my discussions with our leaders - we must keep safety front and centre of everything we do.
Bob Fryar, executive vice president, safety and operational risk, BP

Using advanced technology

New technologies are helping us to increase the amount and quality of data that we gather from our operations and speed up our analysis, allowing us to act more quickly. For example, we are piloting software that identifies early warning signs of potential performance problems by gathering machinery and plant data, analysing it and bringing it all to a single screen so engineers can more quickly troubleshoot and resolve potential issues.

We are testing magnetic crawler robots to inspect the pipelines that connect our deepwater wells with our platforms. The robots use lasers to identify corrosion or damage. This can provide us with earlier warnings of potential safety issues.

We also use technology that gives us extra eyes on our offshore wells to help inform decision-making. We have a monitoring centre in Houston in the US where our teams can monitor data in real-time from our operated rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as offshore exploration and high-impact wells around the world.

Our performance

To track our safety performance, we use industry metrics, such as the American Petroleum Institute recommended practice 754 and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers recommended practice 456.

These include tier 1 process safety events, which are losses of primary containment of greater consequence - such as causing harm to a member of the workforce, costly damage to equipment or exceeding defined quantities. Tier 2 events are those of lesser consequence. The overall number of process safety events decreased in 2016, continuing the downward trend of the past five years.

Another metric that tracks unplanned or uncontrolled releases of our products from pipes, containers or vehicles is loss of primary containment (LOPC). This is a BP metric that includes events within our operational boundary, excluding releases of non-hazardous substances such as water. We saw an increase of LOPCs in 2016, partly due to harsher winter operating conditions in our unconventional gas operations in the US.

Process safety events (number of incidents)

Process safety events (number of incidents) - chart

We have seen improvements in our process safety performance over the past five years. For example, at our Rotterdam refinery the number of tier 2 events has reduced from 12 in 2012 to just one in 2016. Alongside this, the refinery’s availability has increased, with 2016 its best year in over a decade. We see examples of this right across our operations - we believe this shows that the rigour needed to produce safe operations tends also to produce reliable operations.

Human performance in safety

How our people interact with equipment, processes and each other is fundamental to operating safely. We are working to identify and adopt good practices for managing human performance drawn from inside and outside the industry. Through this, we aim to improve our equipment and processes so we can better support our people and reduce the likelihood of mistakes occurring in safety critical tasks.

A learning organization

We remain focused on improving safety across BP. Our operating management system, which covers requirements on safety, security, contractual relationships and organizational learning, is designed to help us manage risks and drive improvements. We analyse our performance and apply lessons learned from incidents, near misses, self-verification, assurance and audit findings. This helps us build a picture of our risks, focus our analysis and inform where to concentrate our safety efforts.

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