PPS has been in practice for over 150 years. Technical plants are now getting safer and the number of safety related incidents has declined further. Incidents may however occur like witnessed in the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima or in the Gulf of Mexico. We must not relent. We must continue to be better. We must maintain and develop our competencies further!
Doing more about PPS, acquiring good training, focus of companies on PPS, leaning from near misses/ actual incidents and the continuous intention to be better, will eventually create the much needed competencies to make technical plants really safe.
PPS 150 years ago
Industrialization can be traced back to the steam boilers which were operated at low pressures below 2 atm. New technology advancement to higher pressure, led to several boiler explosions. More than 100 explosions are documented are documented in a span of about 5 years between 1887 and 1892. There were more than 270 fatalities then. In this time, the operators were not in control of the technology. The manufacture and operation of the boiler needed to be examined systematically. This was the beginning of plant safety.
Today technology advancement must also be implemented with systematic safety related analysis – this is a part of PPS.
History reminds us that a thick white cloud of dioxin was released to the town of Soveso. At first the scope of the environmental disaster was not clear and it took up to four days before people began to feel sick with blurred vision, and nausea. The town had to be evacuated.
This incident led to the European Soveso Directive. The German Hazardous Incident Ordinance is based on this directive
The worst safety related incident in a chemical plant occurred in Bhopal, India. Large amounts – more than 40 tons – of methyl isocyanate gas leaked. This caused up to 3800 people immediately and further caused long term effects such as morbidity and premature death for many more.
What is the situation today?
Today operators are obliged to report safety related incidents to authorities. The disclosure threshold vary depending on the nature of technical plant. The causes of the incident are analyzed and the lessons learned are then used to enhance the state of knowledge.
Some countries even document the safety related incidents to much more details with a view to keep check on the reliability of the safety measured. This is easier said than done as such incidents occur rarely and only statements based on statistics can be made with high uncertainty.