Safer Through Automation

by | Dec 4, 2020

 Everyone in an oil and gas facility understands that safety is the highest priority, yet even with regulatory mandates and safety standards there is still room for improvement.

There have been 130 incidents at chemical facilities reported over the past 20 years1. Between, September 1995 and January 2015 there were approximately 128 fatalities and another 218 injuries at oil and gas refineries across the U.S. Of those who died, approximately 60 were a result of an explosion or fire, 35 either accidentally fell or were crushed by heavy equipment, 15 died of asphyxia, 2 were electrocuted, and 7 passed of natural causes typically, cardiac arrest.2 
Operating companies go to great expense to avoid such accidents, in fact, safety is one of the largest expenditures for an operating facility between extended downtime and labor costs for testing. Functional safety testing is usually built into annual, semiannual, or triennial maintenance test schedules. When the facility is off-line for maintenance and testing, it can cost the operator in excess of one million dollars per day in lost revenue and overhead expenses. This significant investment is a testament to the importance put on safety by corporations.
It goes without saying that operators are looking for a way to reduce functional safety test costs without increasing risk. The challenge is that the usual testing process is rigorous and manual, riddled with redundancy and ripe for human error. Often because of the complexity and costs, some routines are reduced to minimalistic tests of cause and effect. This simplifies the testing process but may not perform adequate testing and documentation. Some of these might meet regulatory standards, but they are not the most thorough process and often fail to account for all of the potential consequences, and in the unfortunate event of an incident, documentation can be the difference in favorable and costly investigation outcomes.
Maintaining the safest facility possible and regulation compliance relies on accurate and thorough documentation. However, documentation can be a point of weakness. The more thorough the test, the more complex the documentation. There can be thousands of pages of procedure to test a single system, so it is a challenge to be consistent and to keep documents up to date. On the other hand, when documentation is poor or incomplete much reliance is put on individual interpretation and the experience of the tester resulting in tests being repeated differently and affecting the quality of the tests. All of these are potential points of failure that increase risk and liability.
Operating companies are looking for solutions to improve overall operations and many are investing in digital transformation and automation. But, while there have been solutions introduced that aid in training the testers with the use of digital twins and simulation, there are few solutions that leverage the power of technologies to automate and comprehensively improve functional safety (validation) testing and eliminate systematic error. Of those, only one is fit-for-purpose, Test Drive by ProLytX.
Unlike other testing solutions, Test Drive is vendor-agnostic and is compatible with most Program Logic Controllers (PLCs). It can be deployed as SaaS or on-prem. The solution removes human error by taking a templated approach, yet still allows for human expertise and oversight with a people-approved process. The engineer-designed user interface is far superior to the multi-system, multi-document traditional methods bringing everything into a single view.
Beginning the Test Drive implementation process starts with a documentation audit and IEC61511 third-party review so that any issues with design interpretation and internal bias is removed. Then by establishing a repeatable automated testing procedure with consistent and accurate documentation outputs, the rigorous and repetitive process of regular maintenance and Management of Change (MoC) testing can be completed, and regulatory reporting obligations met without worry to the operator.
The real benefit of Test Drive to the operator is not only knowing that their facility has optimized safety for its workers and the environment, but that the solution has improved overall testing rigor while shifting functional safety testing off the critical path due to the efficiency of automation. This can reduce the testing process from weeks to days, potentially saving the company millions.
1 According to The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), an independent, non-regulatory federal agency that investigates major chemical incidents.
2 Article by Jim Malewitz, published by the Texas Tribune in partnership with the Houston Chronicle on March 22, 2015 and includes information from OSHA records, government investigation reports, newspaper archives, and legal filings.

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