We always strive to be better, to improve our methods and to increase the safety of all types of industry operations. But, this is a huge challenge. Today we already have good safety cultures in most industries and the risk of something hazardous happening is small. The types of catastrophic scenarios I am talking about are very low frequency, meaning that they are, in reality, unlikely. Why then should we invest money in improving safety even further?
Calling for more stringent requirements will not make you the most popular person; it is much easier to say, “What we have is good enough.” However, history has repeatedly shown us that we need to constantly analyse what we have done before and improve our methods.
- The nuclear event at Three Mile Island led to research on human reliability analysis and containment analysis.
- The capsize of Alexander Kielland (an oil platform in the Norwegian sector) formed the basis for a risk-based approach in the Norwegian oil and gas industry.
- The Chernobyl accident led to a transfer of methodologies and know how from the West to the East.
- The gas explosion and resulting fire on Piper Alpha (an oil platform in the UK sector) formed the basis for a risk-based approach (integration of risk assessment, safety cases) in the UK oil and gas industry.
We have had two major accidents in recent years. They are actually two of the most devastating ones in the history of the nuclear power and oil and gas industries. I am referring to the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 and the Deepwater Horizon blowout accident in 2010.
Fukushima led to a series of safety-related activities, such as stress tests of nuclear reactors. These will have an impact on reactor design and direct more focus towards risk analysis. Hopefully this will also lead to an increased interest in uncertainty analysis.
Deepwater Horizon led to increased focus on drilling activities and in particular on the last barrier, the blowout preventer.
The bad news is that accidents happen and will continue to do so. The good news is that we learn from our mistakes. Hopefully, we are facing a safer and better tomorrow.