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Minimizing Human Error in PHA Documentation

Published October 12, 2020 under Risk Consulting Services
Author: Carol Li

The process safety industry understands that humans make errors. As team members become fatigued and stressed due to workload, the rate of occurrence for errors increase. Often these characteristics impact the documentation of the process hazard analysis (PHA) session. Project or Plant driven PHAs frequently have high expectations of scope completeness while being stringent on time, which often leads to compressed PHA sessions. This time constraint results in normalized human errors, which can unfortunately materialize critical documentation flaws.

The errors of PHA documentation can be small, generally consisting of grammatical or syntax errors, or empty rows which may require document clean up. The effects of the errors, on the other hand, can have larger impacts such as unintentionally leaving high risk scenarios without follow up recommendations, resulting in unacceptable risk exposure on site. Other large errors include mismatches between the amount of safeguards applied for risk reduction versus the likelihood of change recorded, and listing a unique safeguard multiple times in a scenario, artificially reducing the risk.

Companies with a mature PHA process often have internal cycles of Quality Assurance (QA) to catch these types of issues and minimize any large impact errors. Unfortunately, these processes are often manual and rely on spot checks as people are usually unable to allocate sufficient time required to check every row of data in a PHA. Even if a person was allotted reasonable time to review a PHA in its entirety, it is very unlikely that a person can catch all errors. If a PHA cannot be reviewed in its entirety after completion, there will always be a chance that something critical can be missed.

Thankfully, as many of these QA items have a repeatable logic based process when checking, many parts of this PHA QA cycle can be automated. This study shows the application of an automated PHA QA tooling process and real case examples of the time savings and high impact items that can be flagged. The ideal goal of this process is to bring high impact PHA Documentation errors to zero, thereby properly capturing the teams’ intent during the PHA Session, and ensuring the highest possible quality of this legal document of risk.

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