Grenfell – Creating a bias toward safety: Practical lessons for change from Piper Alpha
The Piper Alpha explosion on 6 July 1988 killed 167 people and is still the worst industrial accident in the UK. Nearly 30 years later, on the 14 June 2017, the Grenfell Tower Fire in London resulted in 72 deaths.
As I sat in my apartment and watched Grenfell burn, I kept thinking of Piper – of the pain that the community still experiences. Of the similarities around issues such as refurbishments and evacuation. And also, of the significant change that Piper Alpha and the subsequent Cullen Inquiry led to.
In the days immediately after the Grenfell, Piper gave me hope. Hope that the response could be a catalyst for meaningful change. Hope that Grenfell would become a defining moment for the country.
Two years later, far wiser and infinitely more cynical about an authentic desire to learn from Grenfell, I still believe passionately that oil and gas (and other high hazard industries) have much to offer in terms of learning and preventing low probability, high consequences events such as Grenfell.
It was through this interest that I met Dr Stan Schofield. Stan spent 16 years in HSE’s Offshore Safety Division in the wake of Piper Alpha. He was involved in developing technical guidance on safety, assessing safety cases, inspecting offshore platforms, and negotiating safety improvements with the offshore industry.
In this paper he suggests ways that the approach taken post-Piper could be applied to Grenfell. Stan has kindly agreed to me posting his paper on this blog.
Stan says that under the HSE, an acceptable approach to safety by a Duty Holder centres around the latter asking the following basic question:
“Have we done, or are we doing, all that can reasonably be done, in the circumstances in which we operate, to ensure that people are safe from harm from the hazards to which they are exposed by our activities”?Stan Schofield
This creates a bias toward safety.
The paper puts forward a specific regulatory approach motivated by the UK experience of regulating offshore safety under the HSE after the Piper Alpha disaster. The suggestion of this approach follows the Hackitt recommendations involving a new Joint Competent Authority (JCA) of which the HSE would be part, and the paper has set out some detailed reasons for it.
Stan believes that the feasibility of such a new regime is a good example of what can be done based on the UK experience of working, particularly as a world-leader, within a goal-setting regime like that put in place after Piper Alpha. A regime in which ‘doing the right thing’ for the improvement of safety is the essential goal.
I found it very practical and would urge the JCA to consider these suggestions carefully. The JCA was proposed by Dame Judith Hackitt in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety published in May 2018. It will be comprised of members from local authority building control, fire and rescue authorities and the Health and Safety Executive.
Dr Stan Schofield is a Chartered Engineer and Chartered Physicist. He has four decades of experience in the assessment of major hazard safety in the nuclear, offshore oil & gas, and onshore petrochemical industries. From a beginning in nuclear safety in the civil nuclear industry, he moved into offshore oil & gas, where he spent 16 years in HSE’s Offshore Safety Division in the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster.
As a safety regulator in the post-Piper goal-setting regime, he was involved in developing technical guidance on safety, assessing safety cases, inspecting offshore platforms, and negotiating safety improvements with the offshore industry. He subsequently applied lessons learned from this experience to the onshore COMAH regime with HSE. Since leaving the HSE he has been advising nuclear (both civil and defence), oil & gas, and petrochemical industry Duty Holders on steps needed to satisfy HSE regulatory requirements for safety.