It has been 56 years since I changed from a career path in high-speed machinery to employment in the petrochemical and refining industries. Over the course of my work, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of value-adders.
Conversely, I also have dealt with people who spent most of their time arguing semantics. They would quibble over the meaning of a repair, argue the appropriateness of tabulating mean-time-between-failures, ask questions such as: “What really is a repair? Wouldn’t it be far more important to only count work performed on large pumps? Wouldn’t it be better to only count failures of non-spared equipment? Let’s propose to only track shop repairs.”
We all should be concerned with professional word-game-players. Take, as just one example, a response I read regarding the book Rethinking Bhopal, (ISBN 978-0-12-803778-2), the author of which, coincidentally, is my son, Kenneth Bloch. A reviewer took issue with the statement in the book that “a reliable plant is a safe plant,” and went so far as to label the line “an insidious myth.”
Of course, a reasonable person knows that reliable components by themselves do not make safe systems. However, the choices we make when dealing with components that do not meet life-cycle expectations will determine our success (either good or bad). Had the Bhopal facility recognized this connection before opting for a risky, creative workaround procedure to cope with persistent mechanical seal leaks in its refrigeration pumps, many thousands of lives would have been saved.
Try to convince personnel at a best-in-class oil refinery or olefins plant that a process does not have to be reliable to be safe, and they’ll send you packing. Best-in-class owner-operators have made enormous amounts of money and retained their operating licenses by proving this “insidious myth” to be a bonafide fact (unlike the company at the center of the Bhopal disaster that learned this fact when it was too late).
These days, there continue to be remarkable parallels to the Bhopal disaster (more than 25 years after the catastrophe). And those parallels affect all of usl. It’s high time to do some serious rethinking on these matters and associated risks. Woe unto us if we shrug them off again.TRR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Heinz Bloch’s long professional career included assignments as Exxon Chemical’s Regional Machinery Specialist for the United States. A recognized subject-matter-expert on plant equipment and failure avoidance, he is the author of numerous books and articles, and continues to present at technical conferences around the world. Bloch holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and is an ASME Life Fellow. These days, he’s based near Houston, TX. Email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, process safety, personnel safety, professional development