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A 'Serious Slice' Of Process

28 January 2014

A safety model, applied to the construction/engineering industry by Costain, has been described to leading members of the sector.

At the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in London a panel of senior speakers described how a series of random factors – each in themselves inconsequential – can cause serious accidents when they come into alignment.

The analysis is called Process Safety, and is based on the ‘Swiss cheese’ model, developed in the late 1980s.  This illustrates how major incidents can occur from concurrent failures in several elements of the performance of people and systems. 

In the Swiss cheese model, cheese slices (with holes in them) represent various ‘barriers’ put in place by an organisation to prevent incidents. The holes in the cheese slices represent a barrier failure.  An accident or adverse event can occur when all the holes in the slices line up and the barriers fail. 

The annual ICE lecture, which has been sponsored by Costain for the last four years, focused on ‘Safety in Civil Engineering: Learning from Best Practice in other industries’. It drew a packed audience of more than 200 at the ICE’s London headquarters, with a further 74 watching online.

“The event was again over-subscribed and elicited positive and active responses from our customers,” said Costain’s Strategy and Business Development Director, Mike Napier.

“It was great to welcome representatives from most of our customers, partners and their advisors, many of whom have now looked at implementing this approach within their businesses,” added Darren James, Costain’s Infrastructure MD, who chaired the event.

One of the three speakers was The Hon. Sir Charles Haddon-Cave QC, who produced in 2010 the official report into the crash of a Royal Air Force Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft over Afghanistan after leaking fuel touched a hot pipe and ignited. His report detailed how a series of shortcomings in the RAF and Ministry of Defence’s safety regimes over many years – including devaluing of specialist engineering skills and ‘paper-based safety’ – had conjoined to allow the tragedy to occur.

In his engaging address he said we need to catch up with other industries in preventing catastrophic losses: “If you think process safety is expensive, try having an accident like the one BP had in the Gulf of Mexico”. 

Other senior speakers were Judith Hackitt, chairwoman of the Health and Safety Executive, and Derrick Farthing, former director of Health, Safety and Environment at E.ON, who gave a view from the energy industry.

Judith congratulated the industry on excellent progress made in changing the safety culture, from accepting the inevitability of serious injury to recognising safety as a core value.  But she challenged us to learn from chemical industries, which have addressed not only personal safety, but also process safety.  Avoiding slips and trips drives down injury rates, but doesn’t address the issues that caused the Buncefield or Texas City explosions, she said.   These require designs that are inherently safe – in operation as well as construction – and actively working to avoid catastrophic incidents.  That requires leadership.  She challenged us to understand our safety-critical layers of protection.

Derrick outlined the Energy Institute’s recent experience in creating its process safety management framework, which he has used as the basis for Costain’s analysis tool.

The ‘Swiss cheese’ safety model “has been around since the 1990s, but it’s only recently been used in construction”, said Mike.

Costain was very much in the vanguard of introducing it to the sector, he said. “Much in the same way as with behavioural safety: everyone is doing that now, but we pioneered that in the UK construction industry.”

A video of the lecture, which is recommended viewing for all those involved in safety, is available on the ICE’s website, together with transcripts and supporting material (click ‘downloadable content’) at: