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Effectively Conduct Remote PHA/HAZOP Studies

Given the current circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, face-to-face meetings may not be possible for upcoming process hazard analyses (PHAs) and other team-based studies at your facility. However, when it comes to the performance of process-safety-related compliance activities, regulators expect that companies will exert their best efforts to conduct studies on schedule. Increasingly, we are being asked by our clients about the practicality of remotely facilitating PHA studies.

While face-to-face PHA meetings enable participants to fully engage, modern video conferencing technology makes remotely facilitated studies possible. Since the start of the pandemic Primatech has facilitated a number of PHA studies remotely and they have proven to be effective. Incidental benefits of remote facilitation include avoiding the inconvenience and costs of travel for the participants. This is particularly true for studies of short duration or those requiring long travel times. Travel to Alaska or overseas for a single day study is not reasonable.

Here are some lessons we have learned from conducting PHA/HAZOP studies remotely.

A video conferencing tool that allows for screen sharing should be used and it should be tested thoroughly as part of project preparation. Remote facilitators must be able to share their screen with the team to show the study worksheets as they are completed. However, for security reasons some companies require study sessions to be hosted on their servers, or through their account. In such cases, the ability of the facilitator to share their screen must be tested before the study gets underway. There may be firewalls or other settings that need to be changed.

If the study team is not co-located, it’s preferable that as many of the team members as possible use computer cameras. This better allows the facilitator to manage the team’s discussion, based upon non-verbal cues, particularly if the facilitator has not worked with the team previously. If most of the team members use video cameras, two remote meeting accounts should be used. One can display the PHA worksheet and the other the faces of the participants.

Of course, as part of study preparation it should be checked that each team member has the proper internet connection / bandwidth to avoid freezing the transmission. It is also a good idea to test sound settings, especially microphone settings. Nothing derails a virtual meeting quite like somebody on an audio feedback loop.

Usually team members are provided with the process drawings and other key information during the project kick-off meeting. While this information should still be reviewed during project kick-off, it is wise to give team members access to it electronically a couple of days before the study begins. That way, they can print and have ready copies for reference during the study.

PHA studies sessions often occupy most of the day. However, conducting virtual sessions provides the option of running shorter sessions. While this could extend the overall number of days the team meets, it can reduce the overall session time with increased daily team productivity.

There are some advantages of remotely facilitated PHA sessions. For example, one of the challenges faced by facilitators in face-to-face studies is managing side discussions between participants which slow a study’s progress.  However, in remotely facilitated studies it is difficult for participants to engage in side discussions. Remote participation in PHA studies also produces an increased focus on achieving a study’s objectives as there is less opportunity for socializing.

If your facility has upcoming PHA revalidations or is working on capital projects that require a PHA, you should consider ways to overcome visitor restrictions and other guidelines that currently may not allow those projects to occur, including conducting studies remotely.

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