SECEs: It's time for a rethink
The oil and gas industry was shaken to its core on 06/07/88 when 167 people perished in the Piper Alpha disaster. The Cullen inquiry led to safety case regulations being established and we moved to a goal setting safety regime; characterised by the introduction of PFEER and DCR – put in place to ensure that duty holders of offshore installations deal appropriately with the requirements to provide measures to prevent, mitigate and respond to major accidents.
Performance standards based around Functionality, Availability, Reliability and Survivability became the norm. Today, these are referred to as Safety and Environmental Critical Elements (SECE) and according to the regulations, can be hardware or software, including management systems.
Setting performance standards for certain types of hardware is challenging. A performance standard for a pipe or vessel may state that it shouldn’t leak. We shouldn’t be waiting for items to leak before we consider them to have failed as SECEs.
Hardware shouldn’t be the principal SECE. We claim to be carrying out assurance but are doing little more than inspection. This incorrectly leaves the assurance elements of the process to the verifier.
Changing the emphasis of SECEs to focus on management systems and Integrity Management Systems (IMS) would deliver increased efficiency and reduced costs.
If it can be demonstrated that the IMS is well formulated and correctly implemented this will automatically confirm that the elements it covers are inspected, their functionality confirmed, anomalies managed, repairs carried out, backlogs controlled, planning addressed, and their condition endorsed. Thus removing the need for the specific assurance of individual items.