On the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, I have reflected on how in many ways the industry has changed for the better in terms of process safety and business improvement techniques to reduce the chances of similar disasters occurring. Conversely and specifically in terms of mechanical joint integrity of bolted joints, I also reflect sadly on how many on-shore industrial assets still do not adhere to legislation, industry guidelines and best practice.
I think it’s fair to say that there are many ‘blue chip’ companies out there that either pay lip service to the subject matter or in fact do not have any formal processes or procedures to ensure that all work on bolted joints are executed and completed safely and in a controlled manner. It really is a gamble and only through sheer chance that accidents and incidents have not occurred.
I often ask myself why aren’t companies within the petrochemical, oil/gas and chemical industries STILL not adopting controlled bolting methods? Also, in a time where the UK engineering age profile is seeing huge ‘gaps’ and where lack of apprenticeships is still a concern why aren’t organisations keen to prove competency of their workforce? I’m sure we have all witnessed the ‘chancers’ that continually travel throughout the land – from one turnaround…. to another shutdown…… then onto a project and consequently the disorder that they can cause.
‘We’ve always done it this way!” is a term that I have heard throughout my career. And quite frankly that answer or statement is not good enough. It’s human instinct to be reluctant to change. But change can be a good thing – particularly when it concerns safe working practices.
The subject matter of mechanical joint integrity for bolted joints is often overlooked or disregarded whether because of ‘cost’ implications or whether through sheer ignorance. And for some organisations within our industry, change can be painful and on times any decision is made with a glacial pace.
I have been involved in joint integrity management for almost 20 years and in that time I have witnessed best practice and sadly I’ve seen things that you wouldn’t believe (or maybe some of you would!) – however the one constant throughout this time frame is my personal interest in the subject matter and the drive that our business has in relation to supporting industry – to eradicate the old ways and to assist in adopting the new. To champion the cause, support the subject matter, to show diligence and assist organisations with compliance. Despite the bad practices, the ignorance and the reluctance to change, the fight must go on…
The primary function of Zulu is to help support COMAH sites across the UK (and further afield) to ensure that best practice is carried out, compliance of industry guidelines is followed and maintained and that the transfer of underpinning knowledge is delivered to help assure competency of personnel.
Don’t get me wrong there are countless organisations that fully embrace it and in fact many of our own existing clients are ‘leaders’ in their respective industries in terms of driving joint integrity management throughout their process plants. But even with this in mind – for every organisation that fully embraces it, there will be another that does not. Old methods are not always the right methods and cutting corners or neglecting procedures can have catastrophic consequences. As with many disasters around the world, sadly it takes the loss of life for the industry to sit up and change its practices for the better. There are many case studies of accidents and incidents relating to lack of joint integrity management or lack of competency and we discuss several of these when delivering our training courses – and although not directly attributed to joint integrity management (or lack of), I hope we never see another Piper Alpha…… or Texas City or Bhopal but as time advances I am not so sure.
After all a safe, leak-free start up of process plant is no gambling matter.
Zulu Joint Integrity Ltd – A VML Group Company
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