The COVID19 virus has had an unprecedented impact on our world. Since its establishment within the human population a year ago, it been recorded in more than 74 million people and led to more than 1.6 million deaths. Governments around the world have responded in different ways to limit the suffering, including fast tracking the search for vaccines, mandating virus spread limiting measures and providing financial support for their economically worst affected citizens. These actions have, in turn, had tangential impacts for safeguarding activities which happen not to be in the COVID front line.
A huge number of national and international events have been cancelled or postponed, disrupting lives and livelihoods worldwide. Indeed, the Wikipedia page dedicated to covering this states that ‘this is a dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness’. Furthermore, a British Medical Journal (BMJ) investigation on ‘Mortality due to cancer treatment delay: systematic review and meta-analysis.’ from November 2020 found that delay and cancellation of cancer treatment due to COVID prioritising and spread limiting measures, significantly increased death rates in sufferers (Each 4 week delay in breast cancer surgery leads to an 8% increase in patient mortality. Accordingly, a 12 week treatment delay for all patients would translate into 1400 annual excess deaths in the UK alone).
In my own sphere, Process Hazard Assessments (PHAs), I sense there has also been a tangential COVID impact – the cancellation of limited duration reviews. As anecdotal evidence I can cite the fact that pre-COVID (up to Feb 2020), 34 out of 101 PHAs I had led were of 1 or 2 day duration. Post COVID (March 2020 onwards) 1 out of 7, a reduction of ~60%. Is this indicative of a wider industry trend and if so, what might be driving it?
My theory is that major project designs and site periodic reviews for high hazard processing (HHP) facilities have the financial resources and momentum to have transformed the planning and execution of PHAs to be 2020 COVID compliant. I suspect that those responsible for managing these smaller scopes, especially site based revamps, may have found that the perceived transformation threshold too daunting and convinced themselves that a less rigorous Management of Change (MOC) process was, in the circumstances, acceptable.
The problem is, of course, that hazards are present whatever your project size. In fact, again based on anecdotal evidence from a HAZOP / LOPA I led a few years ago, this risk can be quantified. The PHA lasted 9 days and, by my calculation, identified the following Process Safety Gaps:
If the 1 or 2 day reviews which I managed had not been sanctioned, around 4 serious injuries would have resulted; perhaps people I know. If this continued for another 15 years, it is likely that one future life would have been lost; maybe someone you know.
The good news is that help is at hand. You can encourage, enable and empower those responsible for initiating and managing smaller HHP PHAs to do just that. In other words, help them to see that the barrier to small PHA execution is smaller than they envisage and can be pushed even further down. And here is one way you can do it: