After the outbreak of the corona pandemic, KH Engineering moved a large number of services from the office to online. But how do you deal with that when carrying out a HAZOP safety study, together with a team from your client? Robert Boom will tell you more about it.
Robert Boom works as Consultant HSSE at KH Engineering. He explains: ‘The HAZOP is a method for safety studies. We carry it out for customers in the various industries in which KH Engineering is active, such as the process industry. It is a recognised method for identifying process risks per installation component. During such a study, you review the production process and design of the installation. With a team of specialists - from both the client and KH Engineering - we assess whether something could possibly go wrong in that process. This is how you identify the safety risks.’
SPECIALISMS AT THE TABLE
Robert chairs HAZOP studies. ‘Prior to that, I make an inventory of the professional disciplines and specialisms I would like to see represented at the table. It often involves about five people, for example process engineering, instrumentation & process control, mechanical and HSE employees, depending on the part of the installation you want to examine. Such a HAZOP study can be arranged in a day, but for more complex assignments it can sometimes take up to a week or a month, and in some cases even longer. It varies from small changes to an installation that may have safety effects to a complete audit of the entire factory. It can also involve installations that are still on the drawing board or, on the contrary, a periodical repetition of the HAZOP of a factory that has been running for decades.’
At the start of the corona pandemic outbreak, a number of clients decided to temporarily halt the safety studies. Robert: 'When it turned out that the pandemic was taking much longer than previously thought, they picked it up again, but with appropriate safety measures. What those measures are depends very much on the client. Some people swear by meeting in person - at a distance of 1.5 metres - sitting in a small room, and others think online meetings are a good idea.’
Getting into it
Most of the HAZOP studies went online. ‘By now I hardly know any better,' says Robert. ‘You set up a connection and before you know it you're sitting at the table with six team members, but virtually. I started cautiously, with sessions of up to four hours. Now they sometimes last the whole working day, with breaks, of course.’ Especially in the initial phase it took some getting used to and looking for the right working method, Robert says. ‘As chairman you sometimes have a hard time, because you lack body language. In a meeting where you're sitting together, you can see if someone isn't quite following it. Then you can ask them a question, for example. You can also add some extra dynamics by standing up and walking up to someone or going to the board. In a team meeting you have to pull harder as chairman. A discussion doesn't get started quickly, that's technically difficult.'
However, there are also advantages, Robert believes. ‘It's easier for the chairman to keep the attention on himself, because people don't talk among each other when you have the stage. An online meeting is often more efficient and structured, which is very nice. And it's more convenient because you can work from home.’
MIX OF PHYSICAL AND ONLINE
Robert is of the opinion that you cannot say that online meetings work better or worse, 'it works differently'. I expect this method to continue to be commonplace, including post-corona. ‘The HAZOP process will then become a mix of physical meetings and online meetings. The complexity of the assignment and whether you already know each other will probably play a role in this. Once you have got to know the people, for example, it would be best to make a follow-up appointment online. You also need to know in advance who already has experience with a HAZOP and who needs some extra preparation and instruction. Especially if team members have to travel long distances, for example in the case of a foreign supplier of a machine, an online study has great advantages'.
QUICKLY BECOME THE STANDARD
All in all, Robert feels that it has quickly become normal to carry out the HAZOP study via Teams. ‘Of course it took some getting used to, but for the time being we have to. And I already notice a big difference compared to a few months ago. The objections of that time have largely been overtaken by the reality of everyday life: working and therefore also remote consultation has quickly become the standard.’
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