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Using the Right Tools for your RPM/PSM Hazard Assessments

At Braun Intertec, our consultants practice eight non-negotiables that are the core of our safety program.  These eight non-negotiables are to be followed at all times to ensure that our employee owners have safety at the forefront of what they do.  These non-negotiables lay the groundwork for daily operations and are designed so that if, at a minimum, they are followed, there is a high likelihood of completing the job at hand safely.

One of the non-negotiables is “use the right tool for the job”. It’s short, simple, to the point, and applicable to each of the various Braun Intertec service lines. This applies for physical services like geotechnical testing, drilling, remediation and construction materials testing, it is applicable to our inspection, monitoring and evaluation services and our routine office work.

Each workplace has specific practices that carry a unique set of hazards — with some bearing more catastrophic risk than others. For companies whose facilities face the risk of unexpected releases of toxic, reactive, or flammable liquids and gases in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals, OSHA has issued the Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemical standard (29 CFR 1910.119). This regulation surveys all processes that involve the handling, using, storing, moving or manufacturing of highly hazardous chemicals and is used as a comprehensive analytical tool that integrates management practices, daily procedures, and tools and technologies.

One of the most important elements of process safety management is a process hazard analysis (PHA). A PHA is a set of systematically designed assessments, by employers, of potential hazards associated with the processing and handling of highly hazardous chemicals in the industrial process. This can include major hazardous chemical spills, smaller chemical releases, fires, and explosions. PHA can have various methods which are used to design distinct solutions to specific high-risk scenarios possible in the workplace.

The several methods and associated tools that can be used to perform a PHA include:

  • What-if method
  • Checklist
  • “What-if” Checklist
  • Hazard and Operability (HAZOP) approach
  • Failure Method and Effect Analysis (FMEA)
  • Fault Tree Analysis (FHA)

While the various PHA methods are all essentially variations of “what-if” questions that direct discussion, some prefer to use a Hazard and Operability (HAZOP) approach; some prefer the what-if checklist/assessment approach; and others prefer the Failure Method and Effect Analysis (FMEA) method among others.  Over the past few years, Braun Intertec has begun using a combination of the HAZOP and what-if checklist approach and it has proven to be an effective and complementary duo for identifying hazards, potential outcomes, safeguards, and ranking risk. We will discuss these two approaches in this blog.


The HAZOP methodology is a systematic procedure that uses guidewords to help spark dialogue and investigate deviations from the “norm”, or operating failure events.  The HAZOP methodology can be used for most any process. The discussion begins with a deviation or a deficiency and the PHA Team then details what the outcomes, controls and risks are if the deviation occurs.

“What-If” Checklist

The what-if checklist methodology uses questions to identify consequences or hazards. Both HAZOP and the what-if checklist methodologies identify safeguards to prevent the consequence and provide recommendations. Both methodologies allow for risk ranking of hazards or consequences by likelihood and severity using a risk matrix similar to the one below:

Drawbacks of HAZOP and what-if checklist

One drawback to the what-if checklist methodology is that it only addresses the questions asked by the team and requires knowledge of the process to come up with applicable questions.  Additionally, the HAZOP methodology may not identify hazards associated with facility siting.

Another issue that can come up when performing the PHA is appropriately adjusting the risk of an activity based on the safeguards in place. For this case, we like to use a risk modifier that lowers the associated risk based on the controls in place.  Therefore, an identified hazard with no safeguards may have a much higher risk than one with engineering and administrative safeguards in place. This can also take the ambiguity out of lowering risk based on likelihood and severity, since these will stay the same only the risk modifier is changed. Using the risk matrix above, the table below shows how the risk modifier can be used:

There are many tools available to conduct your PHA and depending on your process, you may determine one tool works better than others. Additionally, you may be able to find generic what-if checklist questions to get you started.

Beyond the HAZOP and what-if checklist approaches, there are a number of different tools that can be used to complete PHA. Knowing the processes being assessed, the client, expectations, and the client’s risk tolerances are extremely important as you begin and move forward with your PHA. Braun Intertec can help you with your PHA and help you pick the right tool for the job.

Join us for our environmental webinar, RMP/PSM: Identifying the Likelihood of Hazardous Events in Your Facility, on November 19th with Conan Reed, GSP and Nick Foreman, CSP, where we will discuss PSM/RMP programs, audits and trainings, implementation and best methods for reducing hazards and downtime while optimizing productivity and safety in your daily operations.