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RBI - Eliminating Misconceptions and Misapplications

By Greg Alvarado at Inspectioneering Journal. This article appears in the March/April 2004 issue of Inspectioneering Journal

Background and Perspective

In the early days (circa 1988-1991) of introducing the petroleum refining and chemical industries in the US, to the idea that RBI implementation could be valuable many fell into the trap of focusing on how much money could be saved, to the exclusion of risk mitigation. This led to some unfortunate misconceptions that led to misapplication that led to dead ends in how to evergreen or maintain effective RBI programs. It is important to “get back to basics”, with an improved perspective, based on experience, of where the evolution of the RBI process is leading us.

The focus on cost savings is not accepted well by regulators and insurers, and justifiably so. Their focus is loss aversion or risk mitigation. While they also saw the benefits in the RBI approach they appreciated that RBI could not be sold to the public or shareholders on the basis of saving operating plants money. Why? Because the public and shareholders would think the benefits of cost savings would overshadow doing what needed to be done to assure a safe workplace and community. While this is not the outcome of a well-thought out and implemented RBI program it could be inferred when the primary selling point was cost savings. Choose your words carefully when explaining the justification for RBI implementation. Consider this a word to the wise for discussions with regulators and insurers.

In the hundreds of RBI implementation studies I have been involved with I can honestly say, that for owner/operators that have behaved responsibly, historically, i.e. they have a reasonable, traditional API 510/570/653 inspection program in place, and are now implementing RBI, there are opportunities for risk mitigation and simultaneous cost savings (resource allocation). For new plants or for plants that have not been doing a responsible job of inspection, i.e. run it till it breaks mentality, RBI implementation will require inspection and cost and result in risk mitigation.

For the latter cases, RBI implementation will assure that as you set up your inspection program, it will be risk optimized, doing neither too little, nor too much.

In reality, the cost savings are a reallocation of money and resources to higher risk areas. I don’t know of anyone yet that has walked into the plant manager’s office with a check for $350,000 due to savings during the turnaround because of RBI. That $350, 000 instead is used to further mitigate risk, e.g. increase the amount of profile RT shots in strategic areas of piping circuits where localized corrosion is a concern, or set up an NDE qualification demonstration test block program for advanced NDE, etc. Then again, if management cuts a budget, for whatever reason, RBI can assure a good focus of those resources and build the case to allocate more money to the inspection budget, if risk justifies.

RBI was a tough sell in the early days. I remember giving a presentation on RBI to a group of ~300 to 400 engineers in 1989 in the US. After explaining the concept of RBI (Likelihood of Failure X Consequence of Failure = Risk) the following comments resulted, some very reactionary/defensive and some humorous like these two examples;

  1. “We don’t have risk in our plant because we inspect our equipment every three years.” (Large chemical corporation representative)
  2. One attendee confronted me with the following question in front of the entire crowd and in a classic drawl said, “Do you mean to tell me that if I implement RBI, and there is a failure that you will be responsible for that failure?’ (Refining industry representative) Before I could respond a representative from a large industrial underwriting/insurance company, answered, “It’s a damn site better than what you are doing now.” He knew the man and the company.

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