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DANGERS OF DEFERRING PROCESS SAFETY STUDIES DURING THE PANDEMIC

The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously disrupted the operations of most companies. Many employees are working from home, physical distancing is necessary for employees working in proximity to each other, supply chain interruptions pose challenges, and the list goes on. In dealing with these challenges, it is easy for companies to lose focus on managing process safety risks, or even to seek relief from compliance with process safety program requirements in order to provide resources to address the disruption in operations. However, this is not the time to ease up on process safety programs or defer important process safety studies because the impacts of the pandemic on process operations may actually increase process safety risks.

The impacts of the pandemic are causing companies to modify their operations in various ways. Staffing levels may be reduced, tasks involving people working together may be postponed or re-designed, and other changes in operations and maintenance may be necessary. Change reviews and updates to process hazard analyses (PHAs) will be needed to ensure such changes do not increase risks.

Moreover, the stress people are experiencing from the pandemic increases human failure rates. Operators, mechanics, and other personnel are more susceptible to making errors and mistakes. The adverse impacts on process risks must be addressed. Furthermore, operational discipline may degrade because employees are distracted. Supervisors and managers should be vigilant in monitoring performance and addressing deviations from requirements promptly.

Process safety activities that previously were performed by teams of people meeting together can be performed virtually using software video applications. For example, PHA studies can be facilitated with remote participation by team members and process safety training can continue via virtual live stream and online courses can be utilized.

Process safety tasks should not be deferred during the pandemic to avoid increasing the risk to workers, the public, and the environment from catastrophic process accidents. No company should have to face the problems presented by a process safety incident while trying simultaneously to navigate the pandemic.

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