When the unthinkable happens…

Blog post by Christopher Mellows

Four years ago my colleague and I carried out a compliance audit on a large chemical plant. Part of the audit was to observe working practices, to understand the culture of the organisation and to physically view and inspect a selection of bolted flange joints.
For obvious reasons I cannot divulge the name of the company or the location of the site but the audit raised many non-conformances and concerns; such as misalignment issues of flanges, lack of bolt lubrication, incorrect grade materials, incorrect dia. size bolts, no gaskets, not using calibrated torque wrenches etc.

After highlighting the issues and concerns as part of a detailed report, we would have expected the defects and non-conformances to have been addressed and rectified accordingly.

I learned yesterday that this year the very same site witnessed a substantial release of primary containment, leading to numerous injuries and several fatalities. The causes of the incident varied but included many of the issues raised during our audit.

I genuinely had a gut wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach when I found out. This is a clear case of gambling with compliance. It’s a genuinely thought provoking and emotional situation, especially considering our prior involvement in the compliance audit.
It’s disheartening when the recommendations made during such audits are not implemented, leading to serious consequences.

I hope that appropriate measures are taken to address the root causes of this incident and prevent similar occurrences in the future. However like most similar incidents within our process industries, its all too little too late.

As sad as this particular incident is, we will continue to do what we set out 14 years ago – to work with industry and help prevent the unthinkable.

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