Smith & Burgess' Blog

COVID-19: Operating Facilities Safely During A Pandemic

Posted by Jeremiah McAfoose on Apr 20, 2020 12:15:33 PM

The COVID-19 Challenge

As the COVID-19 disease became a pandemic in the span of mere weeks in USA (months for the world), most of us who work in the process safety/engineering field has probably asked, or been asked:

  • What kind of precautions have you taken to minimize the COVID-19 spread through:
    • Human contact
    • Computer equipment
    • Shared office spaces
    • Common areas
  • How do you determine “non-essential” personnel that should not have access to your facility?
  • What is your contingency plan if/when travel or access is restricted?
  • How can you keep normal work efficiency for these “non-essential” personnel working offsite?
  • What kind of resources do you need to work offsite?

A Remote and Distributed Work Environment

This pandemic, and other natural disasters acutely illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the major hazard industry’s continuity plans. The COVID-19 pandemic and other macroeconomic goings on have put a HUGE strain on the refining business recently. Its worth considering that major hazard facilities are typically setup for about 80%+ staff and contractors executing working onsite. When these major events initiate, that model flips to approximately 20% staff and contractors onsite and the other 80% are accessing and collaborating from outside the refinery (home).

Engineers rely on vast amounts of structured and unstructured data and information to make daily decisions that have a huge impact on safety, reliability and profitability. Having timely access to the right data, in the right place is always essential for Engineers but even more so during an emergency situation. During these times, Engineers are frequently consulted with, and often under pressure to make and inform rapid decisions on how the plant continues to operate when faced with change i.e. less onsite staff, lower or higher rate, alternative modes of operation, emergency management of change (MoC’s) and a host of other items.

Working remote is not a new concept but its application in process safety it being put to the test. Because there is a working framework for remote staff and distributed teams in industries like software and technologies, there are clear technology features which open organization up to the full power of collaboration and real time remote work. Process Safety Information (PSI) has also lagged historically which has put further strain on keeping it up to date in this pandemic.

Salus was there before but its role has moved to the front lines of this challenge. Salus is the tool that our clients' Engineers are using to quickly advise on any potential Relief and Flare system impacts. In the last few weeks alone, Salus has helped numerous users make rapid and accurate decisions related to emergency relief and flare systems changes and impacts that would have otherwise taken hours, days, further verification – unwanted expenses to answer.

Salus, our Cloud based relief system software, has suddenly become our #1 resource to enable this task. It allows our employee (and its external users) to access and perform work on the relief system documentation when most human contacts (let alone travel) have been minimized or restricted.

Ever since the launch of Salus, we have been working with our clients to digitize their relief system documentation or provide a structured and centralized database to store the documentation efficiently and safely. This has provided them with a kind of editable and scalable documentation that can be easily accessed, maintained, and searched to provide valuable and up to date information for accurate decision making in today’s fast paced environment.


Advantages of Salus

To provide a more thorough understanding of how Salus has helped our clients in a time of social-distancing, JD McAfoose (Salus Product Manager) has provided answers to a few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

How has Salus positioned to minimize downtime during a time of social-distancing and working remotely?

Fortunately, Salus has already positioned itself through our offerings to help customers in this trying time. This pandemic has exemplified what it does well:

  • It is cloud based and needs access to the internet only.
  • It has strong revision and calculation capability allowing users to keep their information safe; but more importantly, its unique Data Insights tool is providing unparalleled ability to answer different kind of questions about the stored information quickly. We have recently started seeing a surge in access to the databases
  • Through the measures we have put in place prior, we can easily scale up to handle this surge of usage. We are using lightweight technology to allow access to work in low speed networks, therefore minimizing load to our network
  • Security has been built into the core of its technology to protect/encrypt data in transit through strong password requirements enforcement and frequent updates as they become available. Data stored in it can be safely and securely accessed anywhere and anytime.
  • Recognizing the type of supporting documentation typically linked to a relief system design, we have designed Salus to provide unlimited storage for attachments of different file types
  • Our support team, staffed by experienced chemical engineers, has been built to cover software operation and technical questions to ensure user’s peace of mind of getting the right kind of help

How is Salus managing user’s access when the work involves multiple facilities or different types of users?

Its easy scalability feature enables database administrators to provide access to any number of facilities within an organization. The type of privileges associated with a specific credentials can also be limited to specific facility. For example: a corporate Subject Matter Expert (SME) can have access to the information for all the facilities, while a site Process Safety Manager may be limited to the information for the facility, he/she is working at. Salus can also offer access for client’s contractors, if needed.

Salus provides the ability to provide users access to any number of sites. This is often the case for corporate subject matter experts who are making corporate-wide decisions or standards checks.

Companies like Shell, Valero, Marathon, and Total are managing both employees and contractor access across their sites successfully.

Based on your experience dealing with different clients, what kind of personnel has requested access to Salus? Do they have the same kind of privileges?

Salus is used by a range of users:

  • Corporate or site management personnel
  • Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS)/Process Safety Management (PSM) personnel
  • Maintenance/reliability personnel
  • Operations personnel
  • Process engineering personnel
  • Procurement personnel
  • SME

Just like their different responsibilities, each kind of users has different privileges based on its needs to modify information, search specific type of data, and/or generate specific type of reports.

How does Salus differentiate itself from other kind products for relief system documentation?

Salus is designed to enable user accessing a specific data in a vast database quickly, freeing user’s time to tackle more tasks. Used wisely, the same feature can identify anomalies in data easily to minimize unwanted data variations or allows users to robustly assess impacts of a specific change to a broad range of data.

Robust features to quickly update and make decisions with significant economic impact. Few real-life example of some non-normal operations that require quick decision making are:-

Switching crude slates, Increase feed rates, change product outputs (increased diesel vs. gasoline)

Other examples where Salus can help are:-

  • A corporate SME has been tasked to assess the effect of new changes made to a technical guidelines document recently to various facilities’ documentation.
  • A Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) facilitator needs to assess the credibility of few relief devices taken as safeguards in a recent PHA session
  • An EHS coordinator receive a request from management to report locations where toxic discharges are expected from a relief device
  • A maintenance engineer needs to look for relief devices with specific features because of recent manufacturer’s recall notification
  • A project manager needs to assign priority levels for different process units’ relief system design re-validation due to budget limitation or time constraint

At the end of the day, time is money and an opportunity cost to the site in an environment where every day and month matters. Safety needs to work at the speed of management and Salus provides this ability to organization and their sites.

How have your current customers migrated their current documentation to Salus? Has the migration process resulted in any differences in the documentation? How quick is the process?

To minimize any differences in migration process and be time efficient as possible, we have recommended most of our costumers to bring their information “as-is” to Salus. This way, the integrity of migrated data will be protected, and no differences will be generated.

After the information is available in Salus, the user can start running data queries and generating reports not available to him/her prior to the migration. Typical timeline for this kind of migration is 1-4 months, depending on the number of relief devices of which the documentation/structure of the relief system documentation being transferred.

For those costumers preferring to take advantage of the migration process in order to reduce the relief system design re-validation effort, Smith & Burgess engineering department should also be able to help. 

How does Salus position an organization post COVID-19?

Most organizations will likely position themselves to better manage their data and provide more analytical advantages for their operations. Data warehousing and digital twins’ initiatives should become real targets for a large part of the industry. To start achieving those targets, these organizations will look for an application that:

  • Robustly accessible from multiple locations by multitude of users
  • Securely maintain data integrity
  • Friendly enough for usage by users with different levels of experience/backgrounds

Salus has been developed to easily meet these three basic requirements while continuously positioning itself for the two real targets described above, by providing integration capability into other software implemented on the facility.


Closing Statement

Living in the world reshaped by a global pandemic, the emphasize of most businesses will be how technology empowers personnel maintaining profitability. Should something happen restricting travel, resources should be in place to maintain business as usual. 

For those who have comments/questions, or even maybe want to learn more about how Smith & Burgess can help you to be able to access your relief system documentation in Salus, feel free to reach out to us.

Topics: Did You Know?, Salus, Process Safety Management, Relief System Design

 Safety Knowledge Should be Share...

“It should not be necessary for each generation to rediscover the principles of process safety which the generation before discovered. We must learn from the experience of others rather than learn the hard way. We must pass on to the next generation a record of what we have learned.” - Jesse C. Ducommun, Safety Pioneer
As Process Safety engineers and consultants, we believe our unique position creates a responsibility for Smith & Burgess to share our years of accumulated safety knowledge.

>>> Keep up-to-date with our latest Process Safety knowledge, research, and content by subscribing below. >>>

Subscribe Here!

Recent Posts

Post By Topic

See all