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DEKRA: How to change behaviours and decision making to prevent major accidents from happening?

DEKRA: How to change behaviours and decision making to prevent major accidents from happening?

By Eddie McCullough, Senior Vice President at DEKRA Organisational Reliability Ltd.

The Buncefield Incident in 2005 was a game changer in relation to the public, as well as the industry’s understanding of Major Accident Hazards and their consequences. The terminal was the fifth largest oil-products storage depot in the United Kingdom. A simple tank overfill event escalated into a catastrophic explosion and fire, causing significant damage to the terminal and surrounding business and residential neighbours.

As a consequence of this incident and the subsequent trial in June 2010, Gordon MacDonald, the then Director of Hazardous Installations Directorate (HID) for HSE, issued a challenge to high hazard industries on behalf of all the United Kingdom Competent Authorities to answer these three questions from the boardroom down:

1) 'Do we understand what can go wrong?',

2) 'Do we know what system are in place to prevent this happening?' and

3) 'Do we have assurance that these systems will work?'

The challenge that HSE gave to the UK High Hazard Industry strips down the complex subject of process safety into a simple concept that is easy to understand. Can an organisation answer these three questions in a structured and clear way? The challenge is to answer all three questions at the same time.

It is seven years since this challenge has been issued and our experience tells us that organisations are still struggling with it. On several occasions we have come across a lack of understanding of what can go wrong, missing or ineffective barriers to prevent harm and a lack of chronic unease that fosters the assurance mind-set that is needed to defend against low probability high consequence events in high hazard environments. This suggests to us that the potential of a major incident is high as organisations endeavour to increase their ability to either prevent, detect, control, mitigate, rescue or recover from something bad. On further investigation, we have found on several occasions the level of knowledge and awareness of process safety and process safety management to be minimal, specifically amongst the workforce who regularly interact with the barriers which prevent such events. Although there is often discussion, specifically at senior levels of process safety management, at the valve, the intent is often not being turned into action.

At DEKRA, safety is at the heart of what we do and therefore we aim to raise awareness and understanding of high hazard industries to the importance of preventing a process safety event and how they can ensure they have the resilience they need against a major accident. We summarise some important research and findings in a new downloadable eBook which discusses an approach to developing the kind of resilience and cultural support needed to operationalise COMAH plans that control the risk of major accident hazards in COMAH industry settings. Download the ebook here.


Eddie McCullough

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