DESIGNING OUT RISK.
“Safety is right at the heart of everything we do for our clients, and it is a core value of the RED culture.”
Safety by design
For just over 10 years, RED Engineering has built its reputation on delivering unique engineering design and testing solutions for clients operating in some of the most hazardous environments in the world, and putting safety first, says Engineering Director Richard Kent, is absolutely fundamental to the company’s success.
“We’re designing, building and testing components and systems that have to perform to the highest standards of dependability in the oil and gas and nuclear decommissioning industries. In both those sectors our clients are managing two levels of risk that can arise from any operational failure. The first is the risk to their people’s health and safety. The second is a ‘high consequence’ failure that could result in a wider health and safety or environmental disaster.
“Designing in safety to mitigate both kinds of risks is always our starting point for developing a successful engineering solution. Good design locks in the features that can help most, right from the beginning, so we focus on getting that right.
“Clearly, a significant part of our value to our clients is that we have the experience, the expertise and the engineering systems to design in safety and design out risk. The key to achieving the best outcomes is collaboration – listening to clients and understanding their issues, and understanding the practical challenges and risks of the application we’re designing for.”
Designing out human risk
In many cases, mitigating the human risk by designing and building better engineering solutions will also help clients to mitigate or reduce the high-consequence risks of failure that can stem from human error.
“In hazardous operational environments, one of the key aims of good engineering design is to minimise the need for human intervention, or in other words to design out the need for people to put themselves at risk.
“For example, we’ve undertaken projects for oil and gas clients where we’ve been able to automate parts of the pipe-laying process, removing personnel from a particularly hazardous working environment. In the nuclear decommissioning sector we’re currently working with Sellafield to use robotic technology to handle hazardous materials, rather than the traditional method of manual handling using glove boxes. In both those instances, we’re helping to design out the risks to human safety and reduce the risk of disaster caused by people making mistakes.”
The RED approach to testing plays a key part in delivering first-of-kind solutions that work safely too, points out Richard Kent. “When we’re offering our full design-build-test service, we can build and test our own designs to the point of failure, and if they do fail, we can redesign, rebuild and test again to produce a successful outcome. And if we’re offering a testing only service, we can also design test rigs and testing regimes that give the client an assurance of performance and safety far beyond the standard parameters.”
In their ever-growing test facilities, RED is responsible not only for the eventual safety of the people who will be using RED-designed and tested technology, but also for the safety and wellbeing of their own teams. There are obvious and significant health and safety risks inherent in testing engineering structures or components to extremes of pressure and stress that can end in sudden and explosive failure.
So safety is the absolute priority in the design and execution of any test programme – in the design and build of test rigs and containment vessels, in processes and procedures, and in the mindset of every member of the team.
Safety was a key RED value right from the moment the company was established over ten years ago, says Richard Kent, and he has been fascinated by the process of learning how to embed health and safety in the company culture.
“Safety has always been a fundamental aspect of how the company runs and how we all work together for our clients and each other. How deeply that becomes embedded in the company is entirely down to the people here and one reason it has been successful is the quality of our people. Everyone here completely understands how critical safety is to our clients and what we’re doing for our clients, and for the wellbeing of the whole team.
“Our clients are the other reason why we understand the importance of safety. We’ve learned an enormous amount from clients like Sellafield who set some of the highest safety standards in the world, and who are developing practices and processes that embed these standards in their workforce. Organisations like Sellafield are committed to making safety a behavioural norm, and we’re following their example here.”
Safety in everything
Every Monday morning the RED team meets to discuss a safety topic, a safety pause to consider an industry issue or a disaster, or an incident at home, that sheds light on the causes of the problem. The key invariably lies ultimately in human behaviour, or human error.
“This is the fundamental safety issue we’re focusing on this year,” says Richard. “Human Factors Safety Management. The cause of most disasters or major accidents can be traced back to some sort of human mistake or failure to do the right thing at the right time, so we need to understand what our most common weaknesses or potential mistakes are. Even more importantly, we need to build safeguards into the way we work and think to make sure we recognise and avoid them.”
Richard points to the well-known example of the aviation industry’s ‘Dupont Dirty Dozen’ of most common human failures that cause accidents.
“This isn’t new. The Dupont Dirty Dozen was developed in 1993, and it was focused on mistakes in a very specific area of maintenance in aviation, where even a small failure could lead directly to a major disaster. But it worked in reducing errors and accidents dramatically, and the principle still works if we adapt it to our own business and our clients’ industries. It’s also based on human behaviour, so many of the risks are universal. Lack of communication is the Dupont number one. Distraction is number two. Stress, poor teamwork, fatigue, they apply just as much now as they did thirty years ago.”
The Dupont Dirty Dozen is also focused on finding ways to avoid or counter these behavioural failures, and that’s the journey RED is on now.
“Once you identify your most likely potential behavioural weak points and their causes, then you need to work out how to counter them. In some areas, we’ve developed processes that mean no single lapse can escalate into a wider failure. So for example we have checks and balances at every stage in our design process, verifying each other’s work, and everything we design is validated by building and testing it.
“But most failures are not caused by professional errors. They’re caused by human lapses that might originate in the workplace or at home. Stress, pressure, anxiety, tiredness, all those factors that reduce someone’s ability to perform properly. It’s difficult to create processes that cover all those bases, but everybody here is really interested in this, and we’re coming to a deeper understanding that this is another key aspect of our original vision for the company we wanted to build.
“If you have a genuinely open and honest and supportive culture, then people can tell you if they’re under pressure, or distracted by worries, or struggling with a problem. In that sort of culture, once everybody understands what the behavioural risks are, they know they can raise a flag if they have a problem, and they’ll get the support they need to solve it.
“That’s the kind of culture we have been committed to creating over the past ten years. So making safety an integral part of the way we all think and work comes naturally to a group of people who already understand how critical safety is to our clients, and to how we deliver success for them.”