Someone Up There Must (Be) Like You

I’d be surprised if you and Kurtis Walker knew each other. Kurtis worked as a Warehouse and Logistics Supervisor at a manufacturing site in the UK for 5 years. But, even if his name doesn’t ring a bell, you may well have helped prevent Kurtis suffering life changing burns injuries or even dying at work. So, thank you.

In 2016, soon after a new facility at the site had been commissioned, the Security Team noticed what seemed to be liquid spray discharge on one of their CCTV screens – probably a defective fire sprinkler, they thought. As it was the weekend and no production was taking place, they called the Maintenance Manager who got in his car and drove to the site. He went straight to discharge location and opened the door to enter the building. However, instead of being doused in uncomfortable but safe cold water as expected, he was enveloped by a cloud of highly volatile and extremely flammable solvent.

Acting on instinct, the manager rushed round to the back of the building to isolate the solvent supply, then found a means of temporarily bunding the expanding pool of liquid. Only then did he engage with the Security Team to make the facility safe.

When he got home, a wave of anxiety pulsed through him as he realised that he could easily have generated a spark, ignited the solvent and been burned painfully, perhaps to death. The company, of course, instigated an incident inquiry, the report from which recommended an As Built HAZOP / LOPA review, which I chaired.

The review made 44 HAZOP recommendations, identified 31 scenarios to take to LOPA, for 12 of which Process Safety Gaps were recorded. This is where we return to Kurtis. The most egregious gaps (corresponding to a SIL2 SIF solution) included the previously mentioned solvent leak (which turned out to be from the rupture of a flexible hose) and an activity which Kurtis performed most weeks. Production Ink, suspended in solvent, is supplied in IBCs. During emptying, some of the ink particles, having settled, deposit around the container mouth. Kurtis’ task was then to fill a large jug of the solvent (methyl-ethyl ketone) and rinse the mouth to recover the ink solids residue.

The LOPA determined that if Kurtis continued to perform the task for, say, 12 years, he would more than likely (>50% chance) suffer from burns which could be life changing. He would also have a >5% chance of being burned to death. The risks were, according to the metrics agreed with the site owner, 300 times greater than acceptable. The review recommended that the activity was eliminated, such that once the IBC emptying is complete, it is returned to the supplier without manual rinsing.

I’d be even more surprised (and not a little perturbed) if you knew Lyudmila, for although she represents something precious, she doesn’t actually exist. Lyudmila (Людмила – Ukranian? Russian? – you decide) is the personification of a future life saved on the petrochemical facility as a result of a design HAZOP which I recently chaired. More than 190 recommendations were made, from the relatively banal (Add High Level Alarm) to the crucial (Add Low Level Trip to prevent gas breakthrough, overpressure and vessel rupture), the combined risk reduction therefrom being equivalent to at least one future life.

This is where we return to you. If you have ever participated in, supported, encouraged, defended safety reviews such as HAZOP and LOPA, then you can take some credit for making Kurtis’ (or someone like him – Lyudmila?) working life just a little bit safer. So, again, thank you.