Inspectioneering Journal

Risk Management (RBI/Reliability) in a Lean Operating Environment and Uncertain Future

By Edwin A. Merrick, PE, Senior Engineer at The Augustus Group. This article appears in the January/February 2017 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.


This article discusses some of the challenges process and operating plants have with ensuring profitable operations and alignment with the company business case.  To be profitable in today’s environment requires maintaining focus of limited spending and manpower capability on the correct actions at the right time to navigate the political and economic uncertainty of 2017 and beyond. 

Changes in regulations and actions needed for compliance, and the primary task of ensuring safe/reliable and profitable operations requires daily focus on the right assets at the right time. Such challenges deserve careful management even during profitable economic conditions.  Now that economic pressures in heavy industry are more severe, however, some facilities that survived the turmoil during good times must deal with additional complications associated with sale of facilities and equipment, extensive layoffs of valuable staff, budget cuts, etc.  Assessment of risk and assurance of process/personnel safety and reliable operations must be even more shrewdly managed under times of extreme economic pressure.

The disassociation and turmoil within existing management systems induced by such changes can manifest as corporate memory loss. In many facilities, it becomes a struggle to clearly define reality and risk.  The future will, at least for the near term, be loaded with complex human challenges that must be considered and resolved effectively to ensure safe and profitable operations.  Add to this the challenge of documenting and demonstrating compliance to existing laws and regulations that are in a constant state of flux due to various pressures on those responsible for regulations, and the problem is significantly compounded.

In the author’s opinion, the solution to these challenges will be the superior engagement of personnel at all levels.  Company-wide engagement is the only way to ensure that ACTIONS WILL BE TAKEN to find, focus on, and address the problems that need to be solved for safe and profitable operations. The use of risk management tools in a consistent fashion to prioritize asset integrity and reliability issues is best practice and will add significant value.

This article presents a perspective on the human factor and emphasizes the value of using risk tools at all levels in the organization to help provide management focus during times of severe economic pressure.  The author will highlight an approach to help overcome human obstacles (e.g., ego silos) along with some of the management systems available to chart the unknown problems ahead, help enhance profitability, ensure compliance, and prevent disasters.  A culture built around emphasizing risk management will provide focus on what to do and when to take the action; ensuring we focus on doing the next right thing, whatever it is... the bottom line is that risk should drive action; no risk, no action.

Perspective on Important Mechanical Integrity and Reliability Issues

Several years ago, while attending a Mechanical Integrity Conference, a presentation by one of the OSHA inspectors was observed. 

The topic of discussion was Mechanical Integrity Compliance and what is expected of the Owner-User.  During Q&A the focus became piping and then drilled down to “buried piping.”  The question on the table became:  “What does OSHA expect of a plant mechanical integrity program on buried process piping?”  Whoa, there was such a silence!  Then the presenter asked of the crowd, “WELL - What are you doing?”  One person in the crowd said (and to paraphrase).  “We don’t do anything about it. that is why we buried it in the first place, so we don’t have to look at it.”  The presenter jokingly (or perhaps not) wanted his name and plant location; which for obvious reasons, were not forthcoming.  The crowd went silent for a bit, joked around, and moved on to another topic.

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