This is the second in a three part series on process hazard meetings, such as HAZOPS, PHAs, What-Ifs, Checklists, and HAZANs. Part 1 introduced the concepts. Part 2 discusses meeting attendees and preparation. Part 3, advice for running the meeting, is also available.
In Part 1 we learned about hazard meetings, and saw the worksheet a hazard meeting uses to study the process. But who comes to the meeting to fill this worksheet out? And how should one prepare for a meeting? Let’s discuss that today.
For this post, we will be focusing on large safety meetings that involve a dedicated facilitator, and possibly two or more companies or divisions collaborating to implement a project. For minor work in operating facilities, safety studies are often done internally with a much smaller team, with someone on the work-team taking on the roles of facilitator and scribe.
Attendees to a hazard meeting include:
- Facilitator: this person is an expert in the hazard meeting procedure being used, but ideally they are not involved in the project. They are “independent,” an outsider. They lead/guide the meeting and keep everyone on track, while contributing an outsider’s viewpoint
- Scribe: They record what goes in the meeting: they fill out the worksheet. Normally a projected computer file, or large paper charts, are used so that everyone can see and agree to what is being written. The scribe can participate in the meeting too. Sometimes the facilitator acts as the scribe
- Project leader(s): the project leaders from the companies involved (clients, consultants, etc.) should attend. These are the doing-the-work leaders who are actively steering the project, not the CEO
- Design discipline heads: The heads of the design team’s process, mechanical, controls, electrical, piping, safety, etc. groups. In some cases a discipline head may not be very involved (for example, at a very preliminary stage there may not be much for the structural lead to say) so they may be “on call” instead of at the entire meeting. If a discipline is not involved at all, do not bring them
- Other project workers as required: sometimes the discipline heads want to bring along the people who actually designed certain things, or a very knowledgeable person
- Operations managers, and other operators as required: for their practical insight and concerns
- Plant engineers: knowing how the plant implements projects
- Plant safety representatives
- Plant maintenance chiefs, and other maintenance people as required
- Anyone else desired: consultants, specialists, etc.
1. You have the facilitator and the scribe here to run the meeting from a neutral, outsider’s perspective, and also be “fresh eyes” at the meeting.
2. You have representatives of all the disciplines of the design team, to talk about and represent the design.
3. You have the operations and maintenance team who is going to be actually running the design being discussed. Their input is invaluable in spotting difficulties or hazards.
There is a good reason why you get such a large and diverse team together: the hazard meeting is only as good as the strength of the people in it. You don’t need a group of super-star geniuses able to solve all the problems right then and there by reciting solutions from memory. What you do need is enough diversity to be able to pick out all the dangers: all the deviations, all the hazards, and then to be able to realistically rank the dangers.
If just one person sees the possibility of a danger, that’s good enough. Once the glimmer of a risk has been seen, it can be researched more after the meeting, and it can be caught and resolved. You need enough different perspectives to get that one person in the room.
Qualities of a good facilitator (meeting leader)
Normally, the facilitator is independent – they have not worked on the project being studied, and do not have a stake in glossing over problems to save face. It can be a consultant or someone from a different part of your company. This facilitator must know inside and out the hazard meeting procedure being used. Their job is to keep the meeting on track, to explain the hazard meeting procedure, to ask good questions that really probe the safety of the design, and to answer questions and steer the group out of grey areas.
A facilitator needs to have the confidence, language fluency, and social skills to lead the meeting. Without leadership, it is easy to get sidetracked. People will stop working on the hazards worksheet and will get drawn into design discussions: “what if we did this? Couldn’t it save money? Hey Bill, did you finish calculation XX?” This is all outside the purpose of the meeting, and wastes the time of many people around the table. Hazard meetings are already long and boring enough. And frankly, it’s expensive having so many people there. The facilitator needs to keep things moving and keep to the schedule.
On the other hand, a facilitator must avoid stifling creativity or glossing over dangers. The point of the hazard meeting is to pick up all the risks. By using recommendations, you can ensure that the arguments and the design work occurs outside the meeting, but you need to at least pick up on the troubles and record them. It’s a fine balance. A facilitator who tries to bury or gloss over dangers is worse than useless. They should not be bullying the group into ignoring issues for the sake of an easy, “all’s clear!” meeting report.
It helps a lot if the facilitator has a lot of experience, especially experience in the process in question. The authority/trust/legitimacy that experience engenders will help them manage the group, and also their knowledge helps them to contribute usefully to safety purpose of the meeting. It also helps if they’ve done many design reviews, as this can train the mind to look for deviations and other problems. But strictly speaking it is not necessary that the facilitator have experience in the process or even that much experience in design or operations in general. By virtue of their experience doing many hazard meetings, the facilitator is usually able to contribute substantially to filling out the worksheet, but that’s not really why they are there. The main purpose and need is just to guide the meeting.
In theory, there is no problem with a young/inexperienced facilitator, or one who has no special knowledge about the process being analyzed. But that may make it harder for the facilitator to speak confidently, and for the skeptics around the meeting table to listen to the facilitator. Generally if the meeting participants are more experienced in safety meetings, they realize that the skills of a facilitator are different than the skills of a designer/operator/etc. and that you're paying the facilitator for the former.
There are training courses offered by various institutions in facilitating the various types of hazard meetings. Although helpful, I’ve never heard of these being legally essential. A facilitator can simply be someone who participates in enough hazard meetings to grow into the role.
Qualities of a good scribe
As mentioned above, normally the worksheet is filled out in a way that everyone can see it. These days, probably a table exists in software, like MS Word, Excel, or even specialized hazard software like PHA-PRO. This table of notes can be projected onto a screen so that everyone can see what is being written.
The scribe needs to be able to listen and quickly take down what is being said. That probably means typing very quickly, and having decent language skills. They need some familiarity with hazard meetings, so they know what goes on there, but they don’t need to be an expert. They also don’t need to be an expert in the process: it helps, they’ll understand obscure terms and can contribute better to the meeting, but it’s not necessary.
By the way, the scribe is there as a meeting participant. They should feel free to contribute to the meeting with their own ideas.
The scribe is often a good way to let junior people get involved and learn about the hazard meeting process. Usually the table is surrounded by grey-beads, people who are discipline leads or higher, and the scribe can get a lot out of it.
If a scribe is very new or nervous, here is good advice: listen to the facilitator. Let the facilitator sum up what’s being said and suggest a short but adequate way to record it onto the worksheet. An experienced facilitator should be able to sum up long discussions into a short worksheet entry that addresses everyone’s input.
In addition to recording, the scribe can help before and after the meeting (see preparation, below).
The facilitator can act as the scribe. It’s more taxing of their concentration, but some people can manage doing both at once.
It helps if the facilitator and scribe can do each other’s jobs competently. If the facilitator knows the note-taking software, and the scribe can takeover the meeting for 10 minutes at a time, it lets either person duck out for an urgent phonecall, smoke, or bathroom break without having to pause the meeting for everyone.
Other meeting attendees
In theory, the other meeting attendees just need to show up with their brains and a good attitude. There should be drawings and documents waiting and ready for their use at the meeting (see preparation, below).
As a practical matter, they should bring a method for taking their personal notes, and perhaps a few calculation results or other pieces of information that they could quickly need to call upon to answer some question.
All of the attendees need to keep their focus in the meeting, and keep it from getting bogged down. If people start to stray, others can pipe in to get the meeting on track and thereby assist the facilitator. In this way, a strong personality on the project team can compensate for a quiet, shy, or confused facilitator.
Preparation by the facilitator and scribe
The facilitator and scribe are usually brought in as independent hazard meeting experts by the project.
The first step is for the facilitator and the project leaders to work out the logistical details: when will the meeting be held? Who is coming? Where will it be held? How long? Can we get a laptop and projector? Who’s paying? Can some people attend the meeting remotely with meeting technology? Etc. etc.
The second step for the facilitator and scribe is to learn the process being studied: get the PFDs, P&IDs, process descriptions, layouts, and any other documents necessary. They need to get up to speed: if the project manager or a senior designer can walk them through the project that will help immensely. A 30 minute meeting in someone’s office talking through the design can save quite a lot of confusion and embarrassment.
If this process is new to them, the facilitator may need to do some background reading and get an understanding of the process and the safety challenges present. Ideally both the facilitator and scribe will study this, but in a pinch only the facilitator needs it.
The third step is to set up the worksheets ahead of time: get the templates or software ready, and break the process up into nodes. Perhaps put a deviation list in. Maybe work out a single example to make it easier to explain the how the meeting works.
The fourth step is to get the supplementary documents ready: each member of the hazard meeting will want hard copies of the PFD, P&ID, and layout. This might be the job of the scribe, or someone on the project’s side, to prepare these documents. It is best if someone at the meeting host site can do this, so that no one gets stuck taking a stack of paper on a plane ride.
A meeting schedule should be drawn up ahead of time. The schedule should include time for brief introductions by everyone around the meeting table, and introduction to the hazard meeting procedure taking place, and a walkthrough of the design in case some people at the table are not familiar with all aspects of the design. (Often there are a few people at the meeting who are not fully “in the loop” on the project).
Then the meeting takes place, over several days if necessary. The worksheet is filled out. As is a list of responsibilities. If a computer file is being used, save often and make regular back-ups to e-mail or USB keys.
If you can afford it, make overall back-up plans. (Have an alternate if the meeting room gets double-booked, have a plan if the scribe’s laptop is broken at the airport, etc.)
Reports and Meeting Post-Script
After the meeting, the worksheets and responsibility list should be combined into some kind of report suitable for distribution to all attendees. Because the entire group drafted the worksheet together, there should be no controversy, and there should be no changes to the report’s technical contents. The scribe or facilitator should simply spell check and maybe clarify the wording of a few items that are unclear.
The report should include with the worksheet and responsibility list enough information for the report to stand on it’s own: an introduction and/or summary, a sign off sheet, a list of the nodes, the severity and likelihood and risk rankings and the risk matrix, and a list of drawings. It is also a good idea to append copies of the actual drawings discussed, or handwritten notes/sketches from the meeting. The project and the operating site should get copies for their internal records.
Lastly, after the report is issued the facilitator and scribe are done. Someone in the project should take ownership of the responsibility list. Other team members will resolve their responsibilities, and then come by to the list owner to help them update the list. Keep on this until all responsibilities have been addressed and the list can be closed.