Hazard and Risk Management in a Steel Plant

Hazard and Risk Management in a Steel Plant

Hazard is a source or situation that has the potential for harm in terms of human injury, ill health, damage to property or the environment, or a combination of these factors. It has got a short or a long term effect on the work environment with considerable human and economic costs. It has also got a great demoralizing effect on the workforce. A hazard can have a potential to create an emergency like situation at the work place.

Hazard is defined as “a condition, an event, or a circumstance that can lead to or contribute to an unplanned or undesirable event”. Hazard is a potential cause to generate a disaster. It has got the potential to cause (i) serious harm to the individual or the environment, (ii) harm, the severity of which depends on the extent and frequency of exposure to the hazard, and (iii) harm that does not usually occur, or is not usually detectable until a significant time (years) after exposure to the known hazard. Any activity, procedure, plant, process, substance, situation or other circumstance that has the potential to cause harm constitutes a hazard.

Hazards exist in every workplace in different forms and required to be identified, assessed and controlled regarding the work processes, plant or substances. They arise from (i) workplace environment, (ii) use of plant and equipment (steel plant processes), (iii) use of substances and materials, (iv) poor work and/or plant design, (v) inappropriate management systems and work procedures, and (vi) human behaviour.

Types of hazards include the following.

  • Physical – These hazards are due to noise, vibration, lighting, electrical, heat, cold, dust, fire, explosion, moving parts, and workspace etc.
  • Ergonomic – These hazards are due to tool design, equipment design, job and task design, work station design, and manual handling etc.
  • Chemical – These hazards are due to reacting materials, liquids, gases, dusts, fumes, and vapours etc.
  • Radiation – These hazards are due to laser (non-ionizing), and X-rays (ionizing) etc.
  • Psychological – These hazards are due to shift work, work load, harassment, discrimination, bullying, and stress etc.
  • Biological – These hazards are due to infections (bacterial and viral) etc.

The identification of a hazard can be done by (i) direct observation, (ii) consultation, (iii) historical data, (iv) research, (v) audits, and (vi) standards.

Steel plant has many hazardous processes and operations which can cause considerable environmental, health and safety risk to the workforce. In fact, hazards are ever present in the steel plant environment.  Unlike natural disasters like cyclone, flood, and tsunami etc., steel plant hazards are non- evitable, and hence there is the concept of ‘zero tolerance’ as the standard for the disaster prevention due to the hazards.

All the hazards cause potential risk to the work environment which include work force and work place and hence need proper assessment. The assessment is carried out by measuring (i) probability or the likelihood and the consequence, (ii) assessing the level of risk associated with the hazard, (iii) prioritizing, and (iv) using tools such as matrix, tie lines, fault tree analysis, failure mode and effect, hazard operability studies etc.

Risk due to hazards need control which can be done either through hierarchy of control or through standardized approach that ranks measures taken to prevent or reduce hazard exposures according to effectiveness i.e. the most effective measures to the least satisfactory. The struggle for reducing and controlling risk needs comprehensive hazard identification, risk assessment, risk communication and risk management.

It is commonly understood that risk is defined as the combination of the probability of occurrence of harm and the severity of that harm. It is the probability of a hazard multiplied by its consequence. However, achieving a shared understanding of the application of risk management among diverse stakeholders is difficult because each stakeholder might perceive different potential harms, place a different probability on the occurring of each harm, and attribute different severities to each harm.

Risk management is the process of identifying and evaluating the risks due to hazards associated with activities and operations of the steel plant, developing a means to control, reduce or eliminate those risks, as well as finance them. Generally the steel plant attempts to eliminate or control these risks through hazard identification and correction, accident prevention, training, implementation of safety system, installation of fire protection systems, and various other measures.  On an individual level, risk management is the effort by each worker to make the fullest use of his personal capabilities to eliminate or reduce hazards in his working environment

Risk management principles are effectively utilized in many areas of steel plant including finance, insurance, occupational safety, and especially for the hazards control.

Two primary principles of the risk management are (i) the evaluation of the risk is to be based on the basis of the scientific principles and ultimately link to the protection against the potential hazards, and (ii) the level of effort, formality and documentation of the risk management process is to be commensurate with the level of risk.

The risk management is a systematic process for the assessment, control, communication and review of risks due to the hazards. A typical model for the quality risk management is outlined in the flowchart at Fig 1. Other models can also be used. The emphasis on each component of the framework might differ from case to case but a robust process incorporates consideration of all the elements at a level of detail that is commensurate with the specific risk.

Decision nodes are not shown in the flow chart at Fig 1 because decisions can occur at any point in the process. These decisions might be to return to the previous step and seek further information, to adjust the risk models or even to terminate the risk management process based upon information that supports such a decision.  The term ‘Unacceptable’ in the flowchart does not only refer to statutory, legislative or regulatory requirements, but also to the need to revisit the risk assessment process.

Risk management process

Fig 1 Typical flow chart for risk management

Risk management activities are usually, but not always, undertaken by interdisciplinary teams. When teams are formed, they are also to include experts from the appropriate areas in addition to individuals who are having knowledge about the risk management process.

Management is to take responsibility for coordinating the process of risk management across various functions and departments of the steel plant and assure that the process of the risk management is defined, deployed and reviewed and that adequate resources are available.

Risk management includes systematic processes designed to coordinate, facilitate and improve scientifically based decision making with respect to risk. Possible steps used to initiate and plan a risk management process are also to include the following.

  • Define the problem and/or risk question, including pertinent assumptions identifying the potential for risk
  • Assemble background information and/ or data on the potential hazard, harm or impact relevant to the risk assessment
  • Identify a team leader and necessary resources
  • Specify a timeline, deliverables and appropriate level of decision making for the risk management process.

Risk assessment consists of the identification of hazards and the analysis and evaluation of risks associated with exposure to the hazards. Risk assessments begin with a well-defined problem description or risk question. When the risk in question is well defined, an appropriate risk management tools and the types of information needed to address the risk in question are more readily identifiable.

Risk identification is a systematic use of information to identify risks due to the hazards in question. Information can include historical data, theoretical analysis, informed opinions, and the concerns of stakeholders. Risk identification addresses the question ‘what can go wrong’ due to the hazard. It includes identifying of the possible consequences and provides the basis for further steps in the risk management process. As an aid to clearly defining the risk(s) for risk assessment purposes, the following three fundamental questions are often helpful.

  • What can go wrong?
  • What is the likelihood (probability) it will go wrong?
  • What are the consequences (severity)?

Risk analysis is the estimation of the risk associated with the identified hazards. It is the qualitative or quantitative process of linking the likelihood of occurrence and severity of harms. In some risk management tools, the ability to detect the harm (detectability) also factors in the estimation of risk.

Risk evaluation compares the identified and analyzed risk against given risk criteria. Risk evaluations consider the strength of evidence for all three of the fundamental questions.

In doing an effective risk assessment, the robustness of the data set is important because it determines the quality of the output. Revealing assumptions and reasonable sources of uncertainty enhance confidence in this output and/or help identify its limitations. Uncertainty is due to combination of incomplete knowledge about a process and its expected or unexpected variability. Typical sources of uncertainty include gaps in knowledge gaps in the process understanding, sources of harm (e.g., failure modes of a process, sources of variability), and probability of detection of problems.

The output of a risk assessment is either a quantitative estimate of risk or a qualitative description of a range of risk. When risk is expressed quantitatively, a numerical probability is used. Alternatively, risk can be expressed using qualitative descriptions, such as ‘low’, ‘medium’, or ‘high’, which are to be defined in as much detail as possible. Sometimes a ‘risk score’ is used to further define the descriptons in risk ranking. In quantitative risk assessments, a risk estimate provides the likelihood of a specific consequence, given a set of risk-generating circumstances. Thus, quantitative risk estimation is useful for one particular consequence at a time. Alternatively, some risk management tools use a relative risk measure to combine multiple levels of severity and probability into an overall estimate of relative risk. The intermediate steps within a scoring process can sometimes employ quantitative risk estimation.

Risk control includes decision making to reduce and/or accept risks. The purpose of risk control is to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. The amount of effort used for risk control is to be proportional to the significance of the risk. Management generally use different processes, including benefit cost analysis, for understanding the optimal level of risk control. Risk control normally might focus on the following questions.

  • Is the risk above an acceptable level?
  • What can be done to reduce or eliminate risks?
  • What is the appropriate balance among benefits, risks and resources?
  • Are new risks introduced as a result of the identified risks being controlled?

Risk reduction focuses on processes for mitigation or avoidance of risk when it exceeds a specified (acceptable) level. Risk reduction can include actions taken to mitigate the severity and probability of harm. Processes that improve the detectability of hazards and risks might also be used as part of a risk control strategy. The implementation of risk reduction measures can introduce new risks into the system or increase the significance of other existing risks. Hence, it is to be appropriate to revisit the risk assessment to identify and evaluate any possible change in risk after implementing a risk reduction process.

Risk acceptance is a decision to accept risk. Risk acceptance can be a formal decision to accept the residual risk or it can be a passive decision in which residual risks are not specified. For some types of hazards, even the best quality risk management practices might not entirely eliminate risk. In these circumstances, it might be agreed that an appropriate risk management strategy has been applied and that the risk is reduced to a specified (acceptable) level. This (specified) acceptable level depends on many parameters and is to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Risk communication is the sharing of information about risk and risk management between the managements and interested parties. Involved people can communicate at any stage of the risk management process.  The output/result of the risk management process is to be appropriately communicated and documented. Communications can include those among interested parties within the steel plant, steel industry or regulatory authority etc. The included information can relate to the existence, nature, form, probability, severity, acceptability, control, treatment, detectability or other aspects of the risks. Communication need not be carried out for each and every risk acceptance.

Risk management is to an ongoing part of the risk management process. A mechanism to review or monitor events need to be implemented. The output/results of the risk management process are to be reviewed to take into account new knowledge and experience. Once a risk management process has been initiated, that process is to continue to be utilized for events that might impact the original risk management decision, whether these events are planned or unplanned. The frequency of any review is to be based upon the level of risk. Risk review can include reconsideration of risk acceptance decisions.

Risk management supports a scientific and practical approach to decision-making. It provides documented, transparent and reproducible methods to accomplish steps of the risk management process based on current knowledge about assessing the probability, severity and sometimes detectability of the risk.

Traditionally, risks are being assessed and managed in a variety of informal ways (empirical and/ or internal procedures) based on, for example, compilation of observations, trends and other information. Such approaches continue to provide useful information for risk management.

The steel plant normally assesses and manages risk using recognized risk management tools and/ or internal procedures (e.g., standard operating procedures). Some of these tools are (i) basic risk management facilitation methods (flowcharts, check sheets etc.), (ii) failure mode effects analysis (FMEA), (iii) failure mode, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA), (iv) fault tree analysis (FTA), (v) hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), (vi) hazard operability analysis (HAZOP), (vi) preliminary hazard analysis (PHA), (vii) risk ranking and filtering, and (viii) supporting statistical tools.

It might be appropriate to adapt these tools for use in specific areas pertaining to steel plant hazards. Risk management methods and the supporting statistical tools can be used in combination. Combined use provides flexibility that can facilitate the application of quality risk management principles.