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Catherine Tait

UK & Europe

Catherine Tait is an assistant safety engineer in Atkins' Energy business. She has experience working on numerous oil and gas, and nuclear safety projects supporting a range of clients and has worked as a nuclear licensee on nuclear governance managing a significant organisational change. 

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It’s become a cliché to say that things are changing now faster than ever before. And in the march forward with computing power, communications, political and social changes, it can be hard to keep up and be sure that we are in a good place.

It’s difficult enough at an individual level, but at an organisational level, change, whether desired or enforced is a whole different matter. Automation, increased shareholder expectations of cost and value, and the resultant focus on the people cost of industries, creates a continuous focus on the number of people and the roles they are fulfilling.

When we look at changes for our clients in high hazard industries, there’s an additional complication: the right size of an organisation operating a high hazard plant like a refinery, oil platform or nuclear power station is not based on the normal running of the plant, it’s based on the number of people you need to respond when things start going wrong, where the decision making ability of the operators and management is critical to turning a potential high consequence hazard around to a low-consequence outcome. Operators and organisations are trained to understand their hazards, and how to respond to the developing scenario appropriately.

My former boss tells the story of visiting his offshore facility and using the scenarios he had modelled in developing the safety cases are prompts for exercises, becoming the “author of his own destruction”, at least in a drill! There are many stories in the press about changes to organisations, and much tension in the rail industry right now about the right number of people to operate a train. And organisational changes have been identified as part of the root causes for incidents such as the Esso Longford gas plant fire and explosion, the loss of the RAF Nimrod MR2 aircraft XV230, and the Tokimura nuclear facility criticality incident.

In the nuclear industry, we have a mature and successful approach to this, due to licence condition requirements to have adequate arrangements in place to ensure safe operation and control any change which may affect safety. Part of this considers the construction of a 'Nuclear Baseline' (NB), which aims to demonstrate that there are suitable and sufficient organisational structures, staffing and competences in place to effectively and reliably carry out activities which have the potential to impact nuclear safety. This is well understood in the nuclear area, but in collaboration with our colleagues in other industries, we believe could be used in other areas, such as oil and gas, COMAH chemical sites and beyond, to help design the organisations of the present and the future.

I presented this topic at the IChemE’s Hazards Symposium, Hazards 27 on the 11 May, based on a paper I wrote with my colleague Sophie Whitehead, exploring with the safety community how the principles in nuclear could be used to keep us all safe. At the end of the day, none of us wants a cut too far to put us at an unacceptable risk, whether we are operating or just benefitting from the energy, products or medicines that our high hazard industries produce.

A complete version of this article was first presented as a paper at the IChemE Hazards Our Hazards conference. The conference series brings the process safety community together to share best practice, latest developments and lessons learned. First staged in 1960, Hazards is now one of Europe’s leading process safety event.

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