Story | 04/18/2023 12:51:08 | 8 min Read time

Planning is the key to process safety

Dan Rider

The earlier that process safety is incorporated in the process design, the lower the risk of a negative event impacting production.

Process safety can be summarised as designing processes safely, operating them safely and maintaining them safely. The term refers to good design principles, safe operational practices, technical implementations, and the maintenance of systems and processes related to hazardous substances.

In the most serious cases, process safety incidents can impact not only people and the local environment, but also production and business continuity if plants or refineries require extensive repairs. The severe fire at the Lappeenranta biorefinery in Finland in the spring of 2021 is an example of the serious negative impact that process safety incidents can have.

UPM aims to integrate process safety into all safety management as part of its 2030 responsibility targets. With the company’s expanding biofuel and biochemicals businesses – including, notably, the Leuna biochemicals refinery currently under construction in Germany – operations throughout these process and chemical industries require significantly more strict process safety management.

"The new UPM-wide standard for process safety defines UPM's internal minimum requirements and targets. Process safety risk assessments were incorporated into the investment process, and the key elements of process safety are also integrated into loss prevention surveys that are conducted in our mills by external partners," says Jaakko Hyvönen, UPM's Process Safety Director.

"With traditional occupation safety, we protect the individual workers, but with process safety we can protect the worker, our contractors, our neighbours, our business and the environment around us. In process safety, the frequency of incidents is much lower than in traditional occupational safety, but the consequences can be much more severe.”

Risk management at UPM

Biochemicals and biofuels pioneers

The biochemical refinery under construction in Leuna shows the way forward for process safety in all production plants. Following the fire at the Lappeenranta biofuels refinery in 2021, UPM undertook an extensive investigation and applied the learnings from that incident both at Leuna, and elsewhere in UPM. It became clear that UPM needed to apply process safety systematically, and early enough in its investment projects. Additionally, the company needed to also enhance the competence around process safety.

The key word is systematic, and it is critical that we are rigorous in the application of rules and guidelines from the very earliest stages of every project and throughout every step of the lifecycle of that project.

"We are implementing the experience and design lessons we have had from the Lappeenranta biorefinery over the last seven years that we can implement at Leuna. We aim to have a smooth start up, smooth operation without leaks, and without dangerous situations that can harm personnel, our assets or our industry neighbours. That’s the target,” notes Robert Sachse, Process Safety Manager, UPM Leuna biochemicals refinery.

Making it happen at UPM Biofuels: Ensuring smooth production with timely maintenance

Managing technological risk at Leuna

"A holistic approach to process safety aims to manage technical risks. It means that when you design your equipment, you always target for a residual risk that you can accept. That is why we introduce mutually reinforcing risk-reducing protection layers. If during your safety studies you discover that a certain failure in operation could lead to a pressure build up that could lead to equipment rupturing, you implement additional safeguards to them. It needs to be implemented already during design.”

“Even if you have several protection layers, there is still the possibility that all these layers may fail. Either elements are in maintenance and not in operation, or elements have not been tested in the right manner, or an operator has had a bad day. Then there can be an escalation of a scenario. Emergency preparedness must also be considered.

"We need to train our emergency response teams so that, for example, if there is a release of a dangerous material, we calculate what is the dispersion, what is the affected area and what we need to do. And for the worst-case scenarios we do emergency response planning, meaning who needs to be informed, what is the equipment firefighters, or the emergency response team need to have with them. Can they fight a fire caused by burning fibres or a fire caused by burning hydrogen? These need different firefighting methods," adds Sachse.

UPM has assessed the severity of all scenarios that could happen, and do not rely on only one protection layer. To that end, there is currently no scenario where the company only has the human barrier to avoid an escalation. If the human barrier fails, there are backup systems, like automated systems that will stop the plant. This is a core principle behind process design.

In addition, at Leuna, a digital twin of the biorefinery is currently being developed. It will utilise dynamic simulation of chemical processes to mimic exactly what will happen in the plant after operator action or malfunctions. So, for process safety and operator training, when the digital twin implements certain actions, process engineers and other specialists can see what these actions may lead to in real-world situations.

UPM biochemicals refinery progressing – first wood delivered to Leuna

“Regarding the biorefinery, these puzzle pieces, they existed before and have been used for other applications, but no-one has ever put them together to create this image. The digital twin is really combining processes to make wood into wood chips, to transform them, to separate the lignin part, and that part that you can transform into sugar, to create the sugar and to get out of the sugar some biomolecules. There are several steps that have never been combined in a way we are doing it now” says Sachse.

Putting people in the centre

UPM has undertaken significant work to enhance safe behaviours. "Training is the key when we need to think how we make decisions and how to design the process so that employees can work safely," says Hyvönen.

UPM’s safety targets

Many of the personnel at Leuna will be coming from the chemical industry. Some will be arriving directly from university or from an academic background and will have been working in laboratories, for example. Consistent practices are a necessity.

"For safety, it is important that we understand things in the same way and speak a common language to understand each other. We also provide advanced training for people who play a role in day-to-day business and process safety, so for operators, maintenance people, for technical inspectors. Then there will be extra training for people who really guide the sessions that are performed, like technological risk analysis, for example," adds Sachse.

"The Leuna biorefinery's process safety induction trainings are ready and people trained and we are at about 75% completed and operational on the process safety side. We are building this system in parallel with the new biorefinery.”

The road to 2030

The process safety training developed by the company for all UPMers is about to start. The systematic training aims to make safety a natural part of daily management and way of working.

The target is that the learning and insights gained from at Leuna will be applied to each business to help deliver the optimal benefits.

“We know that this is not a one- or two-year exercise, but the target is that by 2030 process safety will be properly integrated in our safety management system. This is about introducing new ways of working and a different mindset as well. It’s about people’s competence, training, best practices in technological solutions and applying a systematic approach in everything we do. We are building the foundation for the new UPM,” Hyvönen concludes.

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