Consider 'what-ifs' at the pellet plant

How process hazard analysis can help the wood pellet industry
Gordon Murray
November 10, 2017
Written by Gordon Murray
Wood Pellet Association of Canada Safety Committee holds a workshop on process hazard analysis in Richmond, B.C.
Wood Pellet Association of Canada Safety Committee holds a workshop on process hazard analysis in Richmond, B.C. Photo by Gordon Murray
Nov. 10, 2017 - On Nov. 8, a group of 37 Canadian wood pellet producers, insurance risk engineers and representatives of WorkSafeBC gathered in Richmond, B.C., for a one-day training course called Introduction to Process Hazard Analysis for the Wood Pellet Industry.

 
The Wood Pellet Association of Canada Safety Committee organized the event, which was sponsored by WorkSafeBC. Jamie Merriam of ACM Facility Safety, an electrical engineer and process safety management expert was the instructor.

Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) is just one of 14 elements of process safety management (PSM) which include:

  1. Process safety information
  2. Process hazard analysis
  3. Operating procedures
  4. Training
  5. Contractors
  6. Mechanical integrity
  7. Hot work
  8. Management of change
  9. Incident investigation
  10. Compliance audits
  11. Trade secrets
  12. Employee participation
  13. Pre-startup safety review
  14. Emergency planning and response
PSM mainly applies to manufacturing industries and is focussed on identifying what could go wrong and what safeguards must be implemented to prevent hazardous events from occurring. Unlike occupational health and safety (OHS), which focusses on individuals, PSM focusses on safeguarding or eliminating hazards associated with often-complex processes. The wood pellet industry has made significant progress in improving safety by focusing on OHS, but that alone is not enough. The WPAC Safety Committee believes that the next quantum improvement in safety performance will come from implementing PSM across the wood pellet industry.

To this end, WPAC has begun rolling out PSM training modules. The first, Introduction to Management of Change, was held in June 2017. PHA was the second training module. WPAC has two more modules planned for 2018.

PHA is key element of process safety management. PHA includes a set of procedures for carefully reviewing what could go wrong and what safeguards must be implemented to prevent hazardous events from occurring. PHA provides information to help employers and workers to make decisions that will improve safety.

A PHA analyzes the potential causes of fires, explosions, releases of toxic substances and other hazardous events. It considers the equipment, instrumentation, human actions and other factors that might affect the process. A PHA attempts to determine potential failure points, methods of operations and other factors that can lead to accidents.

A team tasked with performing a PHA should include potentially affected operators, supervisors, engineers, and other workers who have knowledge of the process being analyzed. It is helpful to have an experienced facilitator lead the PHA. PHAs must address hazards, previous incidents, engineering and administrative controls; potential consequences of failure of controls; facility siting; human factors; and the range of possible safety and health effects caused by the failure of controls.

There are a variety of methods for completing a PHA. Common methods include:
  • Checklists: using established codes, standards and well-understood hazardous operations as a checklist against which to compare a process.
  • What if: using a team to create and answer a series of “what-if” type questions.
  • Hazard and Operability Study (HAZOP): carrying out a structured, systematic review that identifies equipment that is being used in a way that it was not designed to be, and which might create hazards or operational problems.
  • Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA): systematically studying the consequences of failure (breakdown) of certain operational hardware such as transmitters, controllers, valves, pumps, etc.
  • Fault-Tree Analysis: creating a model showing what undesirable outcomes might result from a specific initiating event (for example, a conveyor stops operating). It uses graphics and symbols to show the possible order of events that might result in an accident.

Upon completing a PHA, employers must establish a system or set of procedures that will promptly deal with the findings of the PHA team and recommendations. Any actions taken to correct hazards uncovered by the PHA must be communicated to the workers in the area and to any other workers who might be affected. Follow-up is a critical part of any PHA because if recommendations are not followed, accidents could result in serious injury, loss of life, and legal liability from the company’s failure to act.

Implementing process safety management is significantly more complex and requires a much greater commitment than solely relying on occupational health and safety. Successful PSM implementation will take time, perhaps even several years before PSM is fully ingrained in wood pellet operations. However, the effort will go a long way toward creating a state where the wood pellet industry is completely accident free. The group of 37 participants who took the PHA course now have the responsibility of sharing the knowledge they gained with their industry colleagues back home and continuing with the job of implementing PSM across the wood pellet industry.

Gordon Murray is the executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.

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