This month’s question to health and safety awarding body, NEBOSH, looks at the considerations needed when developing an asset management strategy
QUESTION: I’m developing an asset management strategy for our process plant. What are the key things it should cover?
The term ‘asset’ covers any item of equipment or an area of a production plant. If not maintained properly, assets can become defective or even fail – potentially leading to serious health and safety implications. Asset failures might include damaged, wearing or defective equipment causing leaks; failing equipment affecting the performance of the process plant; process plant becoming ineffective, resulting in production suffering; or safety systems, such as fire suppression, failing to operate correctly when required.
Instead of dealing with these kinds of situations reactively, it is far more effective (and efficient) to maintain your assets on a preventative basis, rather than allowing equipment to become worn to the point of breakdown. Asset integrity can be defined as the ability of an asset to perform its required function effectively and efficiently whilst protecting health, safety and the environment. Asset integrity management is the means of ensuring that the people, systems, processes and resources that deliver integrity are in place, in use and will perform when required over the whole lifecycle of the asset.
Your asset management strategy should look at each stage of the asset lifecycle and identify the key actions you need to take during each phase. As a starting point, we’ve set out the key phases here:
- Phase 1: Design – the objective is to design for safety and integrity throughout the lifecycle of the asset, for example by choosing plant and equipment that can withstand the conditions it is to be used in e.g. corrosive atmospheres.
- Phase 2: Procurement, construction, installation and testing – the objective is to build in accordance with the design and quality assurance requirements set out in phase 1.
- Phase 3: Commissioning – functional testing to demonstrate that the design standards are achieved and that the asset performs as intended.
- Phase 4: Operations – the objective here is to operate the asset within its design specification.
- Phase 5: Modifications – ensure that any modifications are carried out in a planned, properly documented and risk-assessed manner. This includes identifying additional hazards and potential effects on operating and maintenance procedures, written schemes of examinations, and that additional measures/actions are taken to ensure risks remain as low as reasonably possible.
- Phase 6: Decommissioning – this would entail the safe removal of the asset from operation.
Based on the phases above, when you decide which maintenance strategies you wish to adopt e.g. run-to-failure, preventative (scheduled), predictive etc., documenting your maintenance activity should form a key part of your programme and any maintenance records need to be kept carefully. Some of these will be needed locally but some, for example statutory records of pressure systems, legionella control, local exhaust ventilation (LEV) testing and lifting equipment, may be legally required. As a result, your records must be traceable, whether they are paper-based or electronic.
Finally, there is another aspect of asset management that is essential in the process industries: risk-based calibration of instrumentation. The accuracy of measurement instruments drifts over time and usually it is very difficult to eliminate this drift. Modern instruments typically drift less than older models but environmental conditions such as extreme temperatures, changing seasons and humidity can cause stress on the instruments. Those that are used more often or in critical processes tend to wear out more quickly. As a result, it’s vital to carry out calibration on a regular basis. Consequences of not completing this calibration can include failure to meet the quality system; safety risks for employees and customers; poor product quality and loss of reputation; failure to comply with legislation, causing the loss of the licence to operate; unexpected downtime; and economic losses.
Asset management is covered in our qualification specifically designed for the process industries: The NEBOSH HSE Certificate in Process Safety Management. Further information can be found on the NEBOSH website