Lloyd's Register hosts key safety steering committee meeting

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If you have no idea what is meant by: “Thermal Reactivity Assessment of Nitro Aromatic Compounds in the Presence of other Chemicals,” then don’t feel bad. It was a research presentation by Wen Zhu, a PhD Chemical Engineering student at Texas A&M University.  

Her presentation and several others, including case studies, were evaluated by about 80 students and oil and gas and petro-chemical industry leaders at a steering committee held in the Lloyd’s Register Training Center on 14 January in Houston, Texas. 

Although the day-long seminar was hosted at our training centre, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center (MKOPC) is responsible for arranging each of the five to six steering committee meetings with industry leaders such as Occidental Petroleum, ExxonMobil, BP and other industry heavy-weights. Most of the steering committee meetings, which occur every two months, are held in the Houston area for the convenience of its industry representatives.

The MKOPC mission is to promote safety as second nature and provide academic and research programmes aimed at preventing incidents in the chemical process industries around the world. The centre also develops safer processes, equipment, procedures and management strategies to minimise losses. The centre is committed to keeping the industry competitive while forever changing the paradigm of process safety.   

The objective of the committee meetings is simple – provide industry insight to student research and case studies. Students prepare their presentations, often months in advance, and then the steering committee gives them feedback. Texas A&M MKOPC Associate Director Valerie Green says the meetings are a great venue for ensuring research is industry focused.

“For the students, the real value is the networking with industry, and then when presenting their research, making sure their research is relevant to what is going on in the industry,” she said. The industry benefits, she adds, in that they get some insight into some of the research at Texas A&M. The meetings provide an open forum for discussion. 

The meeting was the first one to be held for the year and generally includes 75 to 90 people between the committee and the students. “The agenda is put together with the suggestions of the member companies or is based on current events that we feel are important to the industry,” Green said. She adds that Texas A&M has about 73 students pursuing master and doctorate degrees at the centre. Using their relationships with other universities around the world, the centre also hosts anywhere from four to ten interns from different countries.

Students presented on dissertation research and case studies such as the Petrobras P-36 semi-submersible oil platform explosion on March 20, 2001 briefed by Susana Leon Caceres, a MS Safety Engineering student. Other presentations included research on risk assessments in offshore drilling rigs to calorimetric studies of ammonium nitrate. For those who love technical details, there was a research presentation on: “A fuzzy logic and probabilistic hybrid approach to quantify the uncertainty in layer of protection analysis” by Yizhi Hong, a PhD Chemical engineering student. 

San Burnett, Principal Consultant for Lloyd’s Register Energy, is a member of the steering committee. “One of the benefits of attending meetings is to see how far the industry has come in the discipline of process safety,” she said. “Yet the occurrence of industrial events reminds us that we still must be diligent in seeking to identify, understand and minimise risks,” said Burnett, a Southern University physics graduate. 

The dialogue between industry and students is what she calls inventive. “Students bring one perspective from their educational studies and research. Members share experiences and diverse industry perspectives; we engage in open dialogue to challenge ourselves and stakeholders to be diligent in supporting research to change the paradigm of process safety,” Burnett said.

Students were not the only ones offering presentations, industry representatives also presented on safety related topics. ExxonMobil Process Safety Engineer Jeff Thomas gave a presentation on “Universal Risk Matrix and ALARP.” ALARP is a safety principle that the residual risk shall be “as low as reasonably practicable.” Another presentation was by Texas A&M Professor Stephanie Payne on their benchmarking of safety culture practices.  

“If the industry wants us to look into special topics, the centre provides an unbiased, science-based way of looking at things,” Green said. With more than 40 companies affiliated with the centre, she adds that any company can join the steering committee and they do not need to have any previous connections or affiliations with the university. “Industry members are heavily involved in process safety and they want to be at the table to talk with their peers and hear about the research that is ongoing.”  

The 35,000 square foot training centre has over 25,000 square feet of classroom, dining and conference space, and the classrooms can be configured in a variety of different ways. The training centre is located at 15740 Park Row Drive in Houston, Texas, U.S.A.

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