Process Hazard Analysis: Your Game Plan for Preventing System Failures

Predictability is the cornerstone of safety and reliability. Predicting problems that might arise within a system is essential to creating a proper maintenance and safety plan that prevents and/or mitigates system failures, environmental releases, and keeps workers and personnel safe. In order to accurately assess the probability of specific hazards, it becomes necessary to thoroughly examine all relevant processes and activities and ask tough questions. A Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) led by Aura Engineering is the first step toward identifying and neutralizing potential problems and hazards that could lead to system failure. 

Two common methodologies of PHA are What-if and HAZOP. Both methodologies are team approaches for checking process plant design and operations. They rely on the team to brainstorm potential hazards and find operability issues. What-if asks questions to get started—a thorough, systematic brainstorming session led by experienced professionals. The HAZOP method focuses on investigating deviations from design intent. Each process was developed to uncover hazards related to system interactions. Both methodologies are recognized by OSHA for Process Safety Management (PSM) and by the EPA for Risk Management Planning (RMP). 

HAZOP may be the more common of the methodologies, but What-if can also be a powerful hazard analysis tool. What-If is a great PHA for simple systems, such as vapor control systems or tank farms. HAZOP is great for refineries and other, more complex systems. 

There are two major objectives during the HAZOP: identifying potential hazards of the systems, and identifying potential operability problems. After potential hazards or problems have been identified, the team then proposes solutions to mitigate any potential issues. 

Compared to a What-If, HAZOP is the more methodical approach. For each parameter (level, temperature, pressure, etc.), each deviation from normal operation is discussed. Once the team identifies the possible deviations from design intent (high level, low temperature, high pressure, etc.),they  discuss the events that could lead to those deviations and their consequences. The team then determines the risk, usually with a matrix of severity versus likelihood. Once the risk is determined, the team may offer recommendations to mitigate the consequences of the failure or operability issue. 

What-If, on the other hand,  is a PHA that reviews a process or activity using creative brainstorming. The study examines a process by considering various process abnormalities and then determines how these could occur and what effect could result. The abnormalities are then considered by asking a What-If question that reflects the potential abnormality, such as “What if the ambient temperature is above 100°F?”

When a What-If question is asked, the  PHA team, consisting of Aura personnel trained to lead PHAs along with designated personnel from the client site, uses the generated question to determine if a problem exists and to offer potential corrective measures. The hazard review team will attempt to answer each What-If question with a measurable statement. For example: “All system components are rated for temperatures of 100°F or greater.”

The job of the hazard review teamis to ask a lot of What-If questions and then offer recommendations and solutions to any potential issues that arise during the questioning process.  

In 2020, the new challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic led our team to also offer online, web-based PHAs. If you need our engineering expertise to help you optimize your operations either in person or via remote conferencing, contact us today for a free consultation. 

By examining the potential for system failure and its attendant consequences with either  methodology, Aura Engineering helps clients plan for the worst to optimize all processes and activities. We’ll help you put the What-Ifs to rest.

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