Overcome Skepticism About LOPA

Simple steps can help managers better appreciate the risk assessment technique.

By G.C. Shah, Mustang Engineering

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Although safety professionals often use layers of protection analysis (LOPA) for risk assessment, some managers remain skeptical about its effectiveness. More often than not, the distrust stems from their not getting proper information about LOPA. This skepticism is healthy and provides a fine opportunity for safety professionals to educate managers about the technique's role and value.

Consider this incident: A busy plant manager freed some time to attend a LOPA facilitation being conducted for a large project for her plant. The facilitator profusely used acronyms and probability calculations in evaluating risk of unsafe events and, where appropriate, recommended additional safeguards. The LOPA process was technically sound but frustrated the manager. She said, "Although I see what you guys are doing, I have considerable trouble seeing its relevance in really reducing risk. I have had a lot of difficulty following your acronyms. Can't you folks talk in laymen's terms so that ordinary people can understand what LOPA really is? Are the LOPA recommendations justifiable economically?"

This isn't an uncommon incident. So, here, I'll share some tips to improve communication about LOPA to management.

Managers typically are financially astute professionals with good people and communication skills. They focus on results. They aren't interested in myriad details about the LOPA process. So, to communicate effectively with them:

• Avoid technical jargon. Terms and acronyms useful in discussions with safety professionals can significantly hinder communications to management. If you must use jargon, explain its meaning in common terms.

• Use managerial language. Emphasize that LOPA is closely tied to a company's productivity and image. Of course, this will require relevant data that link risk and its associated cost. Stated differently, present additional safeguards to reduce risk in terms of their overall lifecycle cost and economic benefits.

• Be concise in your presentation. Keep in mind you have limited time to communicate key points of your LOPA work. Be strategic -- concentrate on "big impact" items. Don't get bogged down in minute details. Of course, spell out all the details of LOPA findings in the formal report.

• Keep readers in mind. In developing a LOPA report, focus the executive summary section on the key action items. Write the report so that all relevant readers -- managers, engineers, safety professionals, and plant operating/ maintenance personnel -- can understand it.

• Start facilitation with a brief presentation on LOPA. This will ensure the team is familiar with the use of LOPA terminology. It may be helpful to send the presentation in advance to each participant.

Face-to-face communications with plant or corporate management, of course, require preparation. While it's hard to predict the exact type and number of questions managers may pose, certain questions arise regularly:

Why do we need LOPA? Our company is totally committed to safety. We follow recommendations of hazard and operability studies (HAZOPs), and, where necessary, install additional safeguards to reduce risk. Does LOPA really reduce risk further?

A HAZOP does help reduce risk. However, it is qualitative and subjective -- so, it could result in improper application of safeguards. Misapplied measures may not reduce risk to the desired extent. LOPA, on the other hand, quantifies risk, thus reducing subjectivity. LOPA typically takes place after a HAZOP and focuses on selected "high risk" issues. LOPA helps you choose among various alternative safeguards to get the one most economically justifiable. Of course, LOPA requires relevant data on the reliability of the safeguards.

From a regulatory perspective, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires companies to adhere to industry standards (e.g., ISA-84.00.01-2004, "Functional Safety: Safety Instrumented Systems for the Process Industry Sector") to comply with its Process Safety Management standard.

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