Trish And Traci Podcast Hero
Trish And Traci Podcast Hero
Trish And Traci Podcast Hero
Trish And Traci Podcast Hero
Trish And Traci Podcast Hero

Podcast: Adjusting To The New Normal

June 2, 2020
Now that the world is slowly resuming operations, what best practices need to be in place?

In this episode Trish and Traci talk about what needs to happen when bringing back your workforce. How will they remain safe distances? How will they handle PPEs? What could go wrong? And how to manage and mitigate all the risks.


Traci: Welcome to this edition of "Process Safety with Trish & Traci," the podcast that aims to share insights from current incidents to help avoid future events. I'm Traci Purdum Senior Digital Editor with Chemical Processing. And as always, I'm joined by Trish Kerin, the director of IChemE Safety Centre. Trish, why don't you update us on what you've been up to lately?

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Trish: Well, it's been interesting time for our household lately, Traci. We decided to adopt a new dog to keep our old dog company. So we ended up adopting an elderly dog. So we're all going through a period of adjustment as we all learn to deal with a new creature in the house as well as go through some of the challenges of toilet training, for example, a 14-year-old dog rather than a puppy. So it's been a fun few days, a few weeks, but he's absolutely adorable. And we love him already.

Traci: What is his name?

Trish: His name is Toby.

Traci: And then you have another dog right? You have a similar age dog?

Trish: Yeah, we do. We've got a 12-year-old beagle as well now. So we've got the two beagles 12 and 14-years-old, both boys.

Traci: Oh, that's awesome. Well good for you for adopting a senior dog. I've always wanted to do so but that's a tough thing to do and I am applauding you for doing so.

Trish: Oh, thank you. Every dog needs a home. So even the old ones. Just got to be prepared to deal with the loss when it happens. Anyway, what have you been up to Traci?

Traci: Well, I don't have any fun puppy stories or old dog stories. We had to deal with a flood last week. We had a record rainfall in the area and that pushed the sewer system up through our toilet in our lower level. So we've been dealing with the cleanup on that and it's not our first time unfortunately dealing with the sewer. I did have a plan in place calling the insurance company and the cleaning crew and making sure that we're on the list to get someone out the very next day because last time it took a couple days and sitting on raw sewage is not fun. So I did have a little bit of a plan in place, but it was interesting that each call this time I had to answer some questions about COVID exposure. So I guess we're dealing with this as our new normal for everything that we're doing these days.

And in today's topic, we're going to explore how companies are coping with their new normal. And while eventually this pandemic will be behind us, we hope the lessons learned will remain valuable for future disruptions of any kind. In previous podcasts, you and I have talked about working from home and virtual meetings and trainings. But there are so many other things that need to be considered in our current world, our current pandemic-impacted world. Can you offer insight on some of the items that normally would be an in person or in close proximity task to execute like risk assessments in team environments and what do we do about shift management turnover?

Trish: Yeah, it's a really interesting area. We're now delving into things that we never thought we could do remotely. And we have to because it's the only choice we have, otherwise they don't get done. And considering risk assessments, there are probably some risk assessments you can put off and don't need to do. But there are some that you do need to do, particularly at this time, because the work that you're doing may be changing in some way. So you need to potentially be going through a management change process, which will require a risk assessment. So we've had to think a little bit creatively and figure out how to deal with some of these assessments remotely. Last week, the Safety Centre actually published a paper where we had a conversation with a lot of our member companies and said, "What are the good practices and tips that you're doing? How are you making life work in this new environment from a process safety perspective?" And so we published that on our website last week, and it's a really useful list of all sorts of different things to think about that. But if we just turn them on to say risk assessment and assurance, for example, risk assessments, it turns out can perhaps be done remotely, but we need to do them a little bit differently.

So one of the things that's come up is pre-assessment preparation is more important than ever, because you don't get the chance to have a little conversation in the room beforehand, or get a little bit of the way through the assessment order that we've got that we need to go and look at something. We don't get that luxury anymore. So we need to make sure we've got really good preparation, defining the roles required for the review, how those people are going to interact with each other? How are they going to get access to the drawings and documentation they need? Are we going to need to think about things like do we develop a generic management of change to address the change circumstances for people, and then have each group actually review that management change at the start of their assessment to make sure they understand their ground rules that they're going to work to? A couple of the other important things we've discovered is that the quality of the facilitator is more important than ever. You can't be a passive facilitator when everybody is virtually in the room. You actually have to be very active drawing out participation from everybody, making sure everybody is getting a chance to have their say.

But coupled with that, the scribe, normally you'll have a scribe, that's probably a junior process engineer, and it's a way to teach them about heads up a little bit more, or PHA, and so they get to be the scribe. Not in today's world at the moment unfortunately. We probably need to have scribes of the caliber of good facilitators, because the scribe is unlikely to be able to be sitting right beside the facilitator and they're getting direct guidance from them as would normally happen in a PHA. So either we need to try and have the two of them in the same room, obviously, socially distanced, or they actually have to be a very experienced and competent scribe to be able to know what they need to do because they won't necessarily have someone right there to ask. It goes without saying your technology has to be robust. You've got to have decent internet signal so people can actually communicate. And in the work environment, many of us work with multiple computer screens, which is great. And it means we can do two different things at once. But chances are people's home office setups don't have that.

If we're down to just one computer screen, you got to think about how people are going to be scrolling through the data and the information. How are we going to be presenting the assessment record to people? The software programs we normally use to track the output of risk assessments might not be suitable. We might have to go back to old school, Excel spreadsheets, so that we can track the information and then upload it later. You got to think about how people are going to get the drawings. Are they going to get hard copies, and if they are all the nodes have to be marked up ahead of time. We can't expect people to do that. They have to get them in sufficient time to be able to review them. There might be health concerns about where they've been printed. And are the pages potentially contaminated? Or even just things like, people might be concerned that, "I have to get over my home address for you to send me that package of information."

So these are things that we would never normally think about. You know, we need to make sure that people have plenty of time to catch up in the conversation. The conversation is going to move slower. Assessments are going to take in the experience we've gathered at least 20% longer. And in some organizations I'm hearing much, much longer, 100% or 200% longer, especially for the first couple to really work through. So there's certainly a lot of different aspects of it that we really need to try and understand. You know, do we have access to CCTV and the site if it's a brownfield site, so we can actually see the site if we want to look at something maybe? Could we send an operator out to take a photo or video? Obviously, following up work processes would be necessary as well. How are we going to make sure that we do get everybody speaking up? What's our communication protocol? It's a really important thing to factor in as well to make sure everybody gets their say. And as part of that communication protocol, there needs to be a decision made is it cameras on or cameras off? This should be the same for everybody. There's not necessarily one benefit either way. There's arguments for both. But everybody needs to be in the same boat, either everybody's camera on or everybody's camera off. That way there's no distinction between the participants, which is really important as well.

It's also critical that when you do do the final report that you note in the report that it was done virtually because this is a new world, and we need to understand that. And perhaps set a review period that's much much shorter than it normally would be so that when we do get a chance to all get back together in a room together, we could sit down and look at it and make sure we got it right, make sure we didn't miss something. Because otherwise, we're potentially just building lightened risk into our facilities, which is not going to be a good outcome when that risk eventuates. And get improvement ideas from the participants. What worked for them? What didn't work for them? What else might I want to do differently next time if they need to do it? And interestingly, one of the other points that one of our companies brought up was, when you're actually assembling a team, normally you go, "Okay, we'll get all the people in the room, we'll get a lot of people, we'll make sure we've got everybody." When you're doing them virtually you probably want to pair that right back. You only need the key critical roles in the room. If you have too many people in the room, you risk losing control of the conversation and the process. There's some times you need to pair it right back so that you get just the right people in the room, not the luxury of everybody you would normally put in there. It's a lot to consider, but I think it can be done and we've got companies that have certainly now got a lot of experience with doing this over the last couple of months and they seem to be getting quite reasonable and solid results so far.

Traci: It brings up are we introducing other problems now by going virtual and the CCTVs? And is there's a security risk involved or is that being addressed?

Trish: Well, certainly that does remain a risk. Cybersecurity hasn't gone away just because of the virus. In fact, in some areas, cyber attacks have increased. And so that is a real concern that does need to be thought about as well by your company's IT people. How are they managing secure linkages? Is everybody going into VPNs to make sure that there's security to get into the network that they're working with? It is certainly something that's got to be considered and you need to make sure you've got the right expert advice in that space, because otherwise you could be opening yourselves up to potential security issues. I would certainly not suggest that everybody from home can log into the DCS. But the CCTV system is an important system, you certainly don't want that hacked. But there may be some good reasons to allow people access potentially. But certainly, this is why we need the management of change. We're in such a changed world, we need to sit back and think about all the changes, and how they're impacting our facility and get the expert advice.

Traci: Absolutely lots of change going on. And speaking of change. I've been writing news items nearly every day regarding plants that are changing their lines to produce PPEs and hand sanitizers. This isn't as simple as it seems. And some plants are really finding out the hard way that there are safety concerns that they never even considered and now maybe that they're dialing back and taking some of those things offline. That's also a risk that they have to consider. Can you give us some best practices for those facilities that have changed their lines to do things that they've never done before?

Trish: Yeah, so again the management of change here is absolutely critical to make sure that you can evaluate the potential hazards that are being introduced by the change you're making. So if you're a facility that's not used to handling ethanol, for example, you're used to handling some other flammable substances, but not ethanol or certainly not in the quantities you need to ramp up the hand sanitizer manufacture, then you actually need to go back and take a good look at some of the guidance and requirements out there for bio-safety. So whether it's in NFPA study guide on flammable and combustible liquids, you need to understand what's in that? How does your fire system stand up to that? You need to understand whether you've got the right earthing and bonding in place for dealing with static issues from the ethanol. You know, understanding one of the challenges of ethanol is that it actually burns clear, so you can't see when it's on fire, which is really quite difficult to manage from that perspective.

So that even makes it a little bit more challenging. And something you're really not used to managing potentially. So you've got to make sure you understand your fire safety systems, you understand the hazards that you're introducing, if you need to get different chemicals or new chemicals in to assist. What's your supply chain? Is your supply chain actually working this process in this situation? You know, we're seeing situations of organizations going along fine until they discover that they can't get a particular treatment chemical they need because their supply chain's down. So what's your backup supply chain, if you need specific items for things? So the other options are things like, "I can get someone else to deal with managing that part of my risk. I'll get it done at another company." You still have to do your due diligence on that. You still wanna make sure that if you are out sourcing something to another organization, that they have the supply chain safety managed as well. So if all of a sudden, someone that only supplies you one particular chemical is now supplying you ethanol, are they capable of supplying you ethanol safely? Or have they just decided to fill a different truck or filled the same truck even? And it'll all be okay. Don't worry about it. That is not an acceptable way to deal with these hazards. We all need to come together. We all need to get a little bit creative in how we can tackle this problem, and how we can produce the products we need. But we have to do it safely. Otherwise, we end up in a situation of incidents happening where people die.

And we have seen a number of incidents occur around the world. In particular, there's a lot of reports of things coming out of India at the moment. There was a factory that had an explosion, making hand sanitizer. They didn't normally make hand sanitizer. They've modified their plant. They had an explosion that killed two workers. The idea of if we had to shut down a facility because of government mandated shutdowns, was it shut down safely? And then what happens when we bring it back online? How do we safely return it to service? And again, significant incident happened in India which as I watched the news feeds unfold. It sent a shiver down my spine because all of a sudden, it just brought back memories of Bhopal, a toxic gas cloud released over the community. And it has killed I think, at this point up to 11 or 12 people. Now it's not in the thousands of the Bhopal level but it was terrifyingly simple and similar to what happened in Bhopal. They lost control, a chemical reacted in storage, it escaped the storage system and it released over the community because when they shut down, they didn't inhibit the chemical properly. Sadly, it's also now all been blamed on human error, "Oh, we made a mistake. We didn't do that properly." Human error is the start of an investigation, not the end. If a human was able to make a mistake that led to a catastrophic system, the system was not resilient and safe in the first place.

Traci: Absolutely. Those are powerful words right there. It starts the investigation. It's not the end of it, indeed. And in talking about like the government restrictions of movement, making it difficult for plants to keep on top of these things, on top of reliability and maintenance issues, obviously, there's a major impact, where safety is concerned. What are some of the best ways to tackle those tasks that may not be as due diligence put into it?

Trish: Well, we really need to go back again, and now start to do task-based risk assessments that we've probably already had for a maintenance tasks, for example, but they assume that there's two workers standing side-by-side doing a particular task together, perhaps. Well, we can't do that now. We need to maintain the social distancing even in our manufacturing facilities. So it might mean you have to take a step back and start asking yourself questions about, "Okay, what can fail? What would be the outcome? And how can we manage it at this time?" And that may mean that you can then make a risk-based assessment and say, "Well, actually, we don't need to do that particular piece of maintenance right now. Because it's difficult to do in the current circumstances. And if I can comfortably answer, what could fail, what would be the outcome and how can I manage it? And it's not significant, then maybe I can leave that for the moment and move on to the more critical areas where I just have to do something." And then once you get to that point, you then need to think about, "Okay, well, how can we achieve some of these social distancing required to do tasks?"

In some instances, we may not be able to and we may need to have to resort to our last line of defense in all cases, PPE. So depending on whether it's masks with face shields, with glasses, with gloves, etc., even potentially Tyvek suits, whatever it is, depending on the task, depending on how we're going in terms of managing the health of the workforce as well, are your workers getting at least temperature checks on arrival, or are we monitoring their health in some other way? Are they living in a secluded area? Or are they basically effectively isolated between work and home? If we got offshore facilities, for example, or remote facilities, how are we managing where they're living together? We may need to change the living arrangements in some of the facilities. For example, now a lot of offshore facilities would normally have shared cabins. Well, there's no shared cabins anymore. Everybody has their own space. Nobody shares a cabin. Not even with the day night shift handover, because we can't afford that cross contamination potentially if one of them is ill.

So it's causing us to think about a whole lot of things that we never really thought about, and a whole lot of things that we never really thought about from a process safety perspective. So the paper I mentioned, you know, we actually talk about mental health, stress and distraction, working from home. And you think, "Well, they're not process safety issues," but they can inhibit a person's ability to make a good decision. And when that happens, we can have a process safety incident if that person's decision is about process safety. So this goes far beyond our traditional process safety areas. We're now needing to think of a whole lot of other things, a whole lot of other factors of how things work. If it does go wrong, how are we going to manage the emergency response? What happens if your emergency responders aren't available? We're now almost in the situation of potentially what we call NAT tech situation and natural hazard triggering technological accident. So emergency services are busy doing other things. Do they have time to respond to us? Or are we going to be lower on the list? How do we manage? Do we have enough people? Are we compromised because there are no more response team? It's only at half strength because either we've had to reduce the resourcing on site, or they're ill and they're unable to work. Have we gone to the stage of, you know, some companies have taken their teams, have all sorts of different things, and they've split their teams, and they've segregated them. And they've said, "You're the red team. You're the blue team. You two teams are never allowed physically in the same place together at all. Because this way, I'm at least protecting half of you. Because I've had the risk of all of you going down I'm segregating you now."

Now, these things impact onto our personal freedoms and liberties without doubt. But at the end of the day, this is actually not about an individual's personal liberty and freedom. This is about the health and safety of our communities and our societies and that means sometimes we all need to make sacrifices so that we get the right outcome for everybody involved. And that's just one of the things that as a society, sometimes we actually just have to do.

Traci: And what we're producing needs to be produced, and we can't just stop it. You know, we do have to go in there and do those things that you mentioned, things that we don't even think. I've never even thought about, you know, folks living together on an offshore, and what happens there, and the PPEs. I mean, that's got to bring some sort of risk itself into it. I know when I have to wear a mask to the grocery store that inhibits me from a lot of things. And now if you've got your workforce having to don these PPEs that there's other considerations you have to concern yourself with. So, lots of things on the plate here that are brand new.

Trish: Yeah. Yeah. And a big challenge with PPE is if you don't wear it correctly, it's not effective. So the idea of we put on our mask, well did we fit it properly? Is it actually sealed in properly? And did we touch the outside of it? Because if we touch the outside of it, then potentially if there's any contaminated surface on that mask from someone else, it's going to be on the outside. You're contaminating the inside. Someone else is contaminating the outside with their breathing. Did you touch the outside of it? And if you do, do you immediately go and wash your hands? How do you store it then so you don't end up with it contaminating something else? You know, people are wearing gloves at the moment, which is great. But putting on gloves correctly, and it sounds silly. You know, how do you put on a glove correctly? There are actually ways to put on a glove correctly and more importantly, ways to take the glove off correctly. Because keep in mind the external surface is contaminated potentially. You have to treat it as contaminated.

As a First Aider, one of the things that we always talk to other First Aiders about is when you take your glove off, pretend it's covered in blood. Because you really don't want to touch any part of it then do you? Pretend it's covered in blood? How are you going to make sure the blood remains as you take the glove off ends up on the inside of the gloves, so you can actually safely dispose of it. But the other thing is we see people wear gloves, and they think that they're protected because they've got gloves on. And so they do things like go to the restroom, and they're not going to wash their hands because they've got gloves on then they go to the supermarket and then they touch everything.

Traci: It's a false sense of security. Yeah. Yeah.

Trish: It's not a magical protection. You know, if I touch something with a glove, and it's contaminated, and I touch something else with that same glove, I've contaminated it. So once the glove protects your hand it does not stop the spreading of something. And so sometimes we just need to think about what we're doing a little bit more. But we're also asking people that have potentially never worn PPE to wear PPE. And we're not teaching them how to do it properly. In the workplace, we have been training modules on how to wear your PPE properly. I haven't seen those come out to the public yet very much. So making sure your mask has actually got a good seal on it, making sure you don't go touching the outside of it and then touching other things, putting it in a place that's safe, so that it doesn't contaminate other things. You know, if you're wearing gloves regularly change them or take hand sanitizer with you. Importantly, on hand sanitizer, one of the things we have seen is an increase of people getting burns on their hands from hand sanitizer. When you apply an ethanol based or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, you must let your hands fully dry before you go and touch anything.

Now, the reason for this is that if you've got a static discharge, potentially, if you're going to touch something and you get a static spark and you've got ethanol on your hands, your hands can catch fire. And there have been instances where people have put hand sanitizer on and lite a cigarette, or put hand sanitizer on and touched the doorknob, had a static discharge, and their hand caught fire. Now remember I said ethanol burns clear as well. You'll feel the heat but you won't see it. You won't see the flame. This can result in some quite significant burns because you actually can't see where to put it out. So little things like how do you safely use hand sanitizer. We need to show people. We need to teach people these things, too. We can't just assume they know just because we know. The general public doesn't have our safety knowledge.

Traci: Absolutely. And then going back to the PPE I mean, there is a correct way of put things on but then working in your environment, potentially pulling into a machine or just having those kinds of things to think about in addition to using things correctly. Just everything topped on top of each other can be a little bit overwhelming and step back and try and do the best you can and make sure that safety is paramount.

Trish: Yeah, on the surface, it sounds easy to say we all need to stand six feet away from each other or whatever it is in your jurisdiction. But that doesn't's not enough. There's other things to consider. We need to consider how it impacts what we're doing. You're right. Are we creating other safety issues? So there's a lot of assessment work to be done on how we're managing process safety at this time and just general personal safety as well.

Traci: Well, is there anything else you'd like to add that we haven't touched base on yet? You know, that's my favorite question.

Trish: There's a whole lot of other fantastic resources out there in this COVID space that I would recommend people take a look at. So at IChemE we've actually got a little Coronavirus hub because particularly in the U.K., we're doing a lot of work supporting the government in establishing new protocols for things. So we've been quite active in that space. So there's a whole lot of stuff there. But the Energy Institute in conjunction with the Center for Chemical Process Safety very early on, produced a bow tie diagram for COVID infection. Now it's about how do I not getting infected? But from a personal perspective, it's an excellent bow tie, and I would commend it to anybody to take a look at. CCPS have also applied their risk-based process safety guidelines to a pandemic or a similar event, and have produced a monograph on it which is also an excellent document that I would commend you to go and take a read of and think about your process safety management system and how you got it covered. But there's also a wealth of other resources and references all of which we've noted within our paper that you can find on our website. There's so much great information out there. Look for the credible stuff. Please don't be caught up in the stuff that's perhaps less than credible that could result in people getting hurt because it's not correct.

Traci: Absolutely. And I will reference everything in the transcript of this podcast as well. What is the name of the paper? I know we've talked about it throughout this entire thing and I don't know if I've heard the title of the paper.

Trish: It is "Managing Process Safety During The COVID-19 Pandemic."

Traci: Well, that's straightforward.

Trish: Yep, simple. I like simple descriptions. It works for me. I'm a simple person at heart. I need simple descriptions. How can you manage process safety better at this time? Well, here's an example of how to do it. And that's free from our website as well, and so a free document as are the CCPS and Energy Institute documents I mentioned too.

Traci: Well, you are always full of resources and intelligent banter on the topic of process safety. Once again, I appreciate your time chatting with me on this. Unfortunate events happen all over the world and we will be here to discuss and learn from them. On behalf of Trish, I'm Traci and this is "Process Safety with Trish & Traci."

Trish: Stay safe.

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Trish Kerin, director, IChemE Safety Centre, Institution of Chemical Engineers, spent several years working in design, project management, operational, safety and executive roles for the oil, gas and chemical industries. She currently sits on the board of the Australian National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) and is a member of the Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center steering committee. You can email her at [email protected].
Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, joined Chemical Processing as senior digital editor in 2008. Traci is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. You can email her at [email protected].