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I am attending the Hazards32 process safety conference in Harrogate, England. The conference is still on-going. There are four tracks, so any report such as this is bound to miss some important information. However, here are a few first impressions.
Process Safety Maturity
The discussions to do with process safety techniques, such as process hazards analysis, were mostly to do with tuning existing systems.
A frequent comment made both by the speakers and in informal discussions is that the process safety business has matured. This is both good and bad. The maturity shows that the techniques and management skills developed thirty years ago were effective. Moreover, the relative lack of catastrophic events in recent years suggests that the process safety discipline has done a good job.
However, maturity can lead to a degree of complacency. It also means that younger people in the profession have not been exposed to the life-changing events of decades past. Process safety management lacks the energy and ‘buzz’ that it had 30 years ago.
Lack of Imagination
A personal observation was that there seemed to be a lack of imagination. (This comment relates to the maturity issue just discussed.) We live in a radically changing world: resource depletion, climate change, and biosphere destruction are just a few of the urgent challenges that we face. The process safety community can make an important contribution, if those in the profession are sufficiently motivated. I did not get the feeling at the conference that many people understood this opportunity.
Some people pointed out that we seem to have gotten ahead of ourselves with regard to alternative energy. We should not give up on working with process safety and fossil fuels too quickly.
One of the alternative fuels in a Net Zero world is hydrogen. Although many process safety techniques can be used in a hydrogen world, there are some special issues to consider. For example, a hydrogen filling station for automobiles should not be covered. Any escaped hydrogen could collect under the roof and form an explosive mixture. There was also discussion to do with the need for new safety regulations for hydrogen.
(The economics of hydrogen as a fuel was not discussed, but this is an important factor, and potential serious limitation on this fuel source.)
The transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources was part of many of the discussions. However, the topic did not dominate the presentations - Net Zero was generally seen as being one issue among many - not something of existential importance.
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