A ‘Serious Slice’ of safety is unveiled

A safety model being applied to the civil engineering industry by Costain has been highlighted to leading members of the sector.

At the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in London a panel of senior speakers described how a series of random factors – each in themselves inconsequential – can cause serious accidents when they come into alignment.

The analysis is called Process Safety, and is based on the ‘Swiss cheese’ model, developed in the late 1980s.

This illustrates how major incidents can occur from concurrent failures in several elements of the performance of people and systems.

In the Swiss cheese model, cheese slices (with holes in them) represent various ‘barriers’ put in place by an organisation to prevent incidents.

The holes in the cheese slices represent a barrier failure. An accident or adverse event can occur when all the holes in the slices line up and the barriers fail.

The annual ICE lecture, which has been sponsored by Costain for the last four years, focused on ‘Safety in Civil Engineering: Learning from Best Practice in other industries’.

It drew a packed audience of more than 200 at the ICE’s London headquarters, with a further 74 watching online.

Speakers included Judith Hackitt, chairwoman of the Health and Safety Executive and Sir Charles Haddon-Cave QC, who produced in 2010 the official report into the crash of an RAF Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft over Afghanistan after leaking fuel touched a hot pipe and ignited.

He said the civil engineering sector needed to catch up with other industries in preventing catastrophic losses, telling the audience: “If you think process safety is expensive, try having an accident like the one BP had in the Gulf of Mexico”.

Judith Hackett congratulated the industry on ‘excellent progress’ made in changing the safety culture, from accepting the inevitability of serious injury to recognising safety as a core value.

But she challenged it to learn from chemical industries, which have addressed not only personal safety, but also process safety.

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