Reliability keeps environmental accidents from becoming PR nightmares

Use reliability to protect you from being caught off-guard by environmental incidents.

By Ricky Smith, CMRP

In most cases, we know that asset-related environmental accidents can be avoided. Whether it’s a carbon monoxide leak that injures an employee or an oil pipeline rupture that kills thousands of fish, organizations probably can prevent the accident. How? In asset-intensive industries, a reliability-focused approach to managing assets can predict an environmental incident far enough in advance to allow time for a company to ensure environmental integrity.

Most companies struggle with controlling environmental risk because their equipment maintenance processes are largely reactive. I’ve witnessed first-hand that hundreds of companies are in the dark when it comes to environmental risk. They react only when an incident has already happened. Yet, with organizations facing increasing environmental regulatory scrutiny, this reactive approach will no longer make the cut. The petroleum industry, in particular, is facing increasing regulatory pressures. New regulations in California and Alberta are proposing stricter environmental guidelines. Petroleum company executives, already struggling to comply with existing regulations, are now concerned with meeting new guidelines.

So how can maintenance and operations management ensure the plant meets environmental guidelines and can adapt to new ones? The solution is to focus on optimizing and managing the reliability of the assets that affect environmental risk. You need to know the functions and performance targets for those assets you rely on most to meet regulations. This knowledge serves as the basis for a proactive asset reliability process - a way to ensure optimal reliability of these critical assets at optimal cost.

Your solution must identify assets with highest environmental risk, identify the actions that mitigate the risk and manage asset health data.

Develop the prioritization criteria for ranking the assets from the highest to lowest risk. Beginning with the highest risk asset, define the asset performance targets. Performance targets might include flow, pressure, temperature and other variables that, if not met, could place the asset out of regulatory compliance.

Develop an asset’s proactive reliability program using technically sound reliability methodology, like RCM, to minimize the likelihood, frequency and consequences of failure. Such methodologies detect failures far enough in advance so action can be taken to mitigate it. Equally important, these methodologies capture historical information that is critical for future trending and regulatory compliance.

At some point, inspections will detect incipient failure (P on the P-F interval). The point at which the asset isn’t performing as intended is point F. Thus the length of time between first detecting degradation and when it fails functionally is known as the P-F interval. Remember our strategy is to keep the asset from failing and introducing the risk of an environmental incident.

Manage failure mitigation by developing a proactive maintenance strategy based on known, likely and conceivable failure modes. In this process, there’s a need for deterioration state specifications defined by condition and state monitoring that focuses on preventing or predicting functional failures that can contribute to an asset having an environmental incident.

Then you’ll need to manage the collection, dissemination and analysis of asset health data related to environmental risk. This data, typically thousands of data points, must be managed and verified so actions can be taken at the first indication of reliability degradation. Some type of reliability data management tool is a must for consolidating and managing this environmental data.

Proactively managing the reliability of an asset can mitigate environmental risks and ensure compliance with regulations. Remember to rank your assets based on environmental risk and identify the performance targets of each function required of your assets. Applying a technically sound reliability methodology, like RCM, can minimize the likelihood, frequency and consequences of the failures. Use reliability management software to manage the data involved. Let me know if you have any questions about proactive asset reliability models.

Contact Contributing Editor Ricky Smith, CMRP, at (843) 906-8686 or

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