Standards can be considered as collective experience and knowledge of human being to do a certain work or making an equipment. In fact the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines a standard as:

Think of them as a formula that describes the best way of doing something. 

It could be about making a product, managing a process, delivering a service or supplying materials – standards cover a huge range of activities.

Standards are the distilled wisdom of people with expertise in their subject matter and who know the needs of the organizations they represent – people such as manufacturers, sellers, buyers, customers, trade associations, users or regulators. International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

In my last project for a relatively young organization, I prepared a list of standards that based on experience is relevant to Process and Process Safety. Part of my list was to explain between different levels of standards and which one has the priority over the other standards (Standard’s hierarchy).

Standard’s Hierarchy

Followings are a list of standards and guidelines available to any engineer in an descending order:

  • Local Codes (Highest level)
    Think of a municipality or county that your organization is located in and has specific requirements
  • Regional/Provincial Codes
    Think of a region or province/state in a country that has its own legislative or enforcement organization and requires specific requirements.
  • National Standards
    Think of it as each country standard organizations or if a code/instruction is required within national laws passed by parliament of that country.
  • Company standards
    Most of times, operating or engineering companies have standards, guidelines based on their cumulative experiences and might be even more stringent that other levels a good example is SHELL’s DEPs.
  • International/Industry Organizations
    Many organization or associations that are non-governmental and they gather their knowledge and guides. One best known example is American Petroleum Institute (API).
  • Best Practices (Lowest level)
    A best practice is a set of rules, recommendations, technique that is generally accepted as superior to other alternatives e.g., size of a tank’s drain connection (minimum 2 inch).

As a person involved in a project, one has to get familiar with the standards used in her/his field of expertise. Of course talking to your client or authorities that will review and approve your work is helpful.

Lessons learned from incidents

Many of standards and guidelines naturally are lessons that we as human beings have learned from incidents or our trial and errors.

Following is a list of topics (accidents) and lessons learned from them that you may consider them in your operating plant or your design and see if they are considered and well thought of:

  1. Safe siting of occupied portable buildings. This is based on BP Texas city isomerization unit explosion in USA on March 23, 2005. During this incidents contractors working inside portable buildings located next to the isomerization unit lost their lives
  2. ESD valves on production platform risers. This is based on Piper Alpha platform incidents in North Sea, UK on July 6, 1988. During this incidents there was no possibility to shut off the flow of flammable to the platform already on fire.
    For the other installation on shore, think of means to safely isolate process units from each other in case of an emergency.
  3. Temporary refuges. This is another point based on Piper Alpha platform incidents in North Sea, UK on July 6, 1988. Although this incidents applies for offshore installations mainly, however on an on shore installation, the design needs to be checked for incidents like explosion, fire or gas release in relation to the buildings locations and specifically control rooms. With this check, there is assurance that in case of need, a process can be safely bring back to stop and safe state.
  4. Permit to work. During incidents investigation of at least following incidents:
    • Piper Alpha Platform, UK, North Sea, July 6, 1988
    • Motiva Enterprises LLC, Delware, USA, July 17, 2001
    • Shell Port Edouard Herriot Depot, Lyon, France, June 2, 1987
    • BP Grangemouth Flare Line Fire, Scotland, UK, March 13, 1987. It is concluded that a permit to work and permit to work verification process was not followed that lead to hazardous situation and incident.
  1. Management of change is a direct lessons learned from numerous incidents. To name a few:
    • Flixborough, UK, June 1, 1974.
    • Chernobyl, USSR, April 26, 1986.
    • Bhopal, India, December 3, 1984.

During these incidents, a change was made to process that either was not reviewed within a team for making sure that the new situation is safe and operable (Flixborough incident) or the change was not communicated with other personnel (Bhopal).

Therefore make sure that changes are communicated in your project or plant effectively and they are reviewed for hazard by a hazard identification review tools like HAZOP to make sure that remaining risk is acceptable.

  1. Avoiding liquid release/relief to atmosphere. This is based on BP Texas city isomerization unit explosion in USA on March 23, 2005. During this incidents flammable material was released via a high point vent that caught fire and exploded.
  2. Avoiding tank overfill that might be followed by vapor cloud explosion (VCE). This is based on Buncefield storage terminal explosion, UK, December 11, 2005.For a tankage area, it is not only important to provide means of containing the releases of liquid to atmosphere, but also means to avoid it or mitigate the consequences of release for example adequate firefighting means and drainage system.
  3. Avoid brittle fracture of metallic materials. This is based on Esso Longford Gas Plant Explosion, Australia, September 25, 1998. This point aims to identify the minimum possible achievable temperature in a process and make sure that the design temperature is covered.
  4. Alarm management has been identified as contributing cause in many accidents even in air crashes. At least following examples are good ones to explain this point:
    • Three Mile Island Nuclear Reactor Core Meltdown, Pennsylvania, March 28, 1979.
    • Esso Longford Gas Plant Explosion, Australia, September 25, 1998.

Review the alarms in your design and plant and make sure that operator has adequate set of warnings for excursions of process parameters beyond safe limit and make sure that there is enough Process Safety Time (PST) available. See our previous article on process safety time (PST).

  1. Avoiding toxic material release (e.g. Ammonia, H2S). This is based on many incidents like:
  • Anhydrous ammonia release at Millard Refrigerated Services plant in August 23, 2010, in Theodore, Alabama, 2010.
  • Chuandongbei gas well blow-out, Gao Qiao, China, December 23, 2003

This point aims to manage the risk of harm to people and the environment by exposure to hazardous material.

  1. Avoiding reactive material mixing (e.g. water entering a storage tank). This is based on incident like Bhopal, India, December 3, 1984.

During this incident, 500 kg of water entered the Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) storage tank that caused a runaway reaction.

Make sure that MSDS of materials stored in your facility or produced by your facility are read and understood by everyone and there is no risk of reactive material mixing. Make sure that fire fighters are aware of means to put out a fire if an emergency arises. Water is not always a good mean to put out a fire.

Way forward

It is very important to identify and agree with your client what standards are applicable. Try to follow and understand the codes and if there is explanation required contact your client or organization responsible for that code/standards.

It is always a good idea to issue a document and every discipline in a project indicates which standards will be used during the project and agree with your client.

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For more information, help on identifying applicable standard in your project or even a tailor made training for you or your organization please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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