Barrier Management: The Missing Link in Process Safety

Kunal Bagul and Alwin van Aggelen

Senior Product Manager & Subject Matter Expert Barrier Management

7 September 2020

Process safety procedures made over the past 20-30 years have enabled us to improve the integrity and design basis of facilities. While the physical world is three dimensional, almost all of the data is trapped on 2D screens and pages and procedures. This gap between the real and digital worlds limits our ability to make the best use of information available to us. Also, with massive amounts of data generated in multiple software that may impact the safety and integrity of a facility, how do we know that good PSM practices are being applied, are effective, and are available to frontline workers to make day-to-day decisions. Process safety can no longer be seen as a separate stream. It must be fully integrated at all levels of the organisation and needs to be part of day-to-day decision-making.


Barrier Management and Process Safety Management

Barrier Management is a well-known concept within hazardous industries, such as Oil and Gas and Chemicals. However, the boundaries regarding BM are not clear. Luckily, in the past few years, there have been more research and articles on BM. One of the key aspects from these latest articles is that they try to define BM on what it should do. Conceptually, Barrier Management is a part of Process Safety Management (PSM), which in turn is part of corporate governance because the whole organisation needs to be involved in the process if you need effective Barrier Management. The figure below shows how Barrier Management is closely linked to PSM and the Process Safety Events pyramid.

Tier 1: Loss of Primary Containment with severe losses/consequences.
Tier 2: Loss of Primary Containment with less severe consequences.
Tier 3: Challenges to safety systems, also considered to be near misses.
Tier 4: Performance monitoring and maintenance.

T1 and T2 indicators yield knowledge on barrier failures and thus act as lagging indicators.
T3 keeps track of barrier weakness or impairment, or any near misses.
T4 measures inputs that maintain barrier effectiveness.
Thus, T3 and T4 act as leading indicators.

In practice, it means that T3 indicators are used to proactively track and identify the ‘holes in the cheese’ and then take action to eliminate or minimize these defects. T4 indicators are metrics used to measure targeted management system assurance or check processes to assess whether specific barriers are being maintained as intended. The focus of Barrier Management is on Tier 3 and Tier 4 events. By actively collecting T3 and T4 events, Barrier Management can proactively anticipate on preventing major accidents from happening.


Who Are the Users?

In the context of PSM, there are two major groups of users:

1) Users who are in the office and do the analysis, and support Operations and Maintenance:

  • Asset Integrity managers, HSE, Risk Managers who ensure that barriers are identified and healthy at any given point in time by creating and supporting processes to do so.
  • They also ensure the information is available to Operations when they need it.

2) Users who are at the frontline and perform day-to-day production-related work:

  • Operations and Maintenance, who ensure the plant is run safely and with optimum input, maintaining barriers and using the latest safety information and diagrams in doing so.
  • They refer to the information provided to them by HSE & Support departments.

Both these groups, however, need the “as-is” status of the facility and processes in order to make informed decisions. This is easier said than done and there are challenges faced (see figure below), which means both groups of users (office and frontline) must make the best use of Barrier Management.

Let’s have a look at these problems and why they exist:

  1. Lack of overview. This is a challenge faced by HSE, Risk, as well as Operations and Maintenance. The problem persists as multiple systems are used to manage different aspects of running a facility like Incident Management, Inspection Management, Permit to Work, DCS, Shift Logs, Analysis, Data Historian like Pi, etc. All these systems store one of the other leading indicators which will be used.
  2. Inefficient process. When a system is not available, this will lead to the use of either Excel or paper processes, which leads to loss of historical data or lack of centralised coordination. For example, actions arising from the breach of a Process Containment barrier is maintained in Excel and one arising from Maintenance planning in the Maintenance system, leading to loss of information when a new system is introduced.
  3. Ineffective coordination. Often, to maintain a barrier, coordination of multiple departments is required which is only effective when there is a single view of the truth.
  4. Information significance. Different data collection processes for different barriers and use of different yardsticks, and also incomplete information and data getting stale before it is used by Operations.

All of the above will lead to an incomplete overview of the health status of a facility, and thus lack of confidence in systems that provide indicators. Why don’t companies act on the data if they could prevent major accidents? It is difficult to collect all the data and determine which one is relevant. Consider factors such as different systems with different data, paper-based data, logbooks, etc. And if you manage to collect all of the data that is relevant – how do you analyze them? These challenges make it difficult for companies to act upon their data to minimize risk on major accidents.

We need to think about a holistic approach where the work is still performed in the respective system that owns the barrier, but any change in an important key performance indicator should be readily visible for the key stakeholder to take appropriate action. A dynamic Barrier Management solution tackles the above problems and enables you to view real-time cumulative risk across areas and assets while providing:

  1. Dynamic swiss cheese functionality
  2. Dynamic bowtie functionality
  3. Barrier threshold management from a single, easy-to-use interface

All the while seamlessly integrating into your infrastructure, with the capability to enable open APIs for various third-party systems.

In addition, best-in-class Barrier Management software is also fully integrated with Control of Work software, a system that is the 2nd most used system by operations (behind e-mail). This helps to bring Barrier Management to the place where it matters the most, i.e. the day-to-day decision-making, while still enabling managers to see the overall status of the facility. Integration with Permit to Work software is what makes Barrier Management stick to the front line. We at eVision tackle challenges with solutions that integrate critical tools and systems by giving you a single view of the truth.


How does it work?

Let’s have a look at how it all works. For a facility Area A, maintenance of a compressor is overdue for more than five days. This situation poses a low risk for your plant. In the same facility Area A, a loss of process containment event had occurred on a compressor tubing and discharge valve for which the root cause has been identified but not addressed yet. And a temporary MOC change in PSV has occurred. This situation poses a medium risk for your plant. An operator wants to create a hot work naked flame activity in the same facility area A which is a medium risk job.  Individually, these are a low and medium risk, but when considered together they could possibly create a high-risk situation in Area A. Will the permit creator add new hazards and controls if they are situationally aware of these ongoing risks? The answer is yes. This is exactly one of the key benefits of Barrier Management software.

For more information, visit the webpages for our Barrier Vision software and CGE’s BowTieXP software.

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