Written by Jim Francis
Is it just me, or does it feel like déjà vu when a new set of pipeline safety regulations are published? Haven’t we completed our records research? Haven’t we evaluated our maximum allowable operating pressures (several times)? Aren’t we already conducting coating assessments when we install new pipelines? Maybe this is perception rather than reality, or perhaps a reflection of the reality that we all have different systems, records, conditions of assets, organizational constructs, budgets, rates and recovery mechanisms, critical relationships, business processes, risk tolerances, resources, business partners, levels of leadership engagement, and business objectives.
Most often, when new regulations are published and we consider what the response to the new requirements will look like, we get fixated on the immediate action needed for compliance: update a procedure, review data, run some sort of analysis, develop a report, etc. What gets missed are all the other things that are needed to ensure that the implementation of the new requirements is effective the first time, that the emergent risks are fully evaluated and mitigated, and that all the impacted processes and controls are fully evaluated and implemented before the new processes are executed.
Is the fixation on compliance, and thus the approach, wrong? Certainly not, adherence to regulatory requirements is a critical piece of pipeline safety and the ramifications of not complying are certainly not desirable. We will be held accountable to the compliance requirements. But is this approach enough? In a pipeline safety management system (SMS) world, it is no longer good enough to just comply. We must look beyond the requirements to ensure all processes support mitigating risks from the new regulations and allow us to meet or exceed the requirements. The application of the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) Recommended Practice (RP) 1173 is intended to do just that.
The authors of API 1173 describe that the RP is designed such that the “elements…are structured to minimize nonconformity with…pipeline safety processes and procedures.” They further recognize the complexity that exists within pipeline operations and how “more effective safety performance is achieved when viewing the linked activities as processes that are better dealt with holistically.” The API 1173 framework is designed to get us to think through the risks and proactively mitigate them before the next incident occurs. The intent again, is to apply a holistic approach to manage risk. A holistic approach is the idea that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Thus, the application of API 1173, in its entirety, will yield better results or a more complete solution than focusing only on a single element, such as Operational Controls, when new regulations are promulgated.
Eight of the ten elements of API 1173 are directly applicable whenever new requirements are promulgated. The graphic below depicts the elements that should be applied to yield the most thorough and effective outcomes when exercising the RP in a holistic manner. Within each element there are specific actions and associated deliverables that should be memorialized in documentation, which allows us to support compliance with the RP’s requirements, ensure effective decision-making and mitigation of risk, and ensure that we have fully exercised the PSMS to ensure conformance with the new regulations.
Often with new regulations, the focus is on Operational Controls and updating or developing processes and procedures, training materials, and operator qualification documents. As the graphic depicts, there is much more that should be done to ensure the response to the new regulations is fully exercised.
One of the challenges with a SMS is knowing where to start. While the elements are designed to work in concert with each other, there are key processes that are catalysts to change.
Critical to the execution of any SMS, is Leadership and Management Commitment. Early in the process, when evaluating the impact of new regulations, helping leadership understand the requirements and associated implications is critical to garner resources and support for action. Throughout the execution of the SMS, it is imperative to engage this group so that they fully understand the actions required and can make guiding decisions throughout the process. This is particularly important if there are considerable investments or additional expenses that will be incurred because of the regulations.
Perhaps the most impactful and critical part of this process is Risk Management. Exercising the risk management process early, even before the regulations are finalized, is necessary. This step will aid in understanding the impacts expected from the regulations and the scope of work and changes that will be coming as a result. Using an approach such as a functional risk assessment, where the key processes are broken down to identify the risks, is a critical first step.
In our blog on Operational Controls, we discuss the primary purpose of the controls which are to mitigate the likelihood of a risk event from occurring or to minimize the consequence if it does. API 1173’s primary focus is on the assessment and improvement of operational controls to mitigate the risks. There are specific tools or methods to identify the controls associated with the risks documented during the functional risk assessment. Through these processes, gaps or improvements to the operational controls are identified, which become the basis for the implementation plan related to the new regulations.
The graphic below depicts different risk assessment methods that can be used within your SMS. Controls Analysis methods, particularly Bow Tie Analysis, are the most effective at determining the impacted controls and the necessary improvements.
Once the improvement plan is developed, execution of all applicable elements of API 1173 should be leveraged through the completion of the action items. Exercising the Safety Assurance processes and leveraging Management Review ensures SMS execution and compliance with the new regulations.
The application of API 1173 is most effective when it is applied at the earliest stages of the regulatory process. While it often feels as though the process is lengthy to finalize regulations, once they are upon us, there is only a short amount of time to take the appropriate actions. Ideally, advisory communications, interpretations and guidance documentation would be available well in advance of the planning process to better inform how the implementation should proceed and to better evaluate the risks associated with the new requirements. However, these too are delayed until the regulations are final. The shortened timelines result in the need to address the immediate compliance requirements and once addressed, move on to implementation and then back into “normal operations.” As a result, we may be less efficient in our execution of the requirements which could lead to repeat or additional actions on the same assets, rather than addressing them all at once.
The direction of new regulations is often well-documented early in the process. These glimpses into what is likely to come offers ample evidence to begin the assessment process. Then as details are determined, iterations to the risk assessment and implementation plan can be incorporated as needed. A longer lead time allows for a broader strategy to fully assess the risks, identify the actions to implement, evaluate all the controls, understand the consequences of the new rule, and develop the most effective operational and financial response to the regulations. The application of API 1173 at an earlier stage in the regulatory process allows for consideration of those broader strategies.
At ENTRUST Solutions Group, we help clients evaluate the impact of new regulations and develop solutions that help them comply and reduce risk. Our professionals leverage the principles within API 1173 to develop effective strategies for implementation and have the skills to facilitate the processes needed for a complete and effective response.
For more information about leveraging API 1173 on new regulations or implementing a SMS, please contact Jim Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-324-3950.
Want to read more on SMS from ENTRUST Solutions Group? Check out this article, “Intro to SMS.”