Industrial Fire Journal - Fire & Rescue - Hemming Group Ltd
Anticipating hazards in industry
Published:  01 January, 2009

Major industrial accidents have a huge impact on legislation. Ann-Marie Knegt met Thierry Tixier and Xavier Quayzin of APSYS, a risk assesment company that specialises in the high-risk industry.

The importance of well-executed risk management has never been higher up the agenda, as the UK Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency recently announced that they are prosecuting five companies following the explosions and fire at the Buncefield Depot in Hemel Hampstead in 2005. The companies concerned are Total UK, Hertford Oil Storage, British Pipeline Agency, TAV Engineering and Motherwell Control Systems. All of these organisation face charges (for more information see the news on page 4) which could have been avoided if they had conducted proper risk assessments.

APSYS provides technical studies and dedicated software tools concerning the risk management of complex systems. This consultancy owned by EADS was created in 1985 when it separated itself from Aerospatiale, a French aerospace manufacturer that built civilian and military aircraft and rockets and which later became EADS. APSYS, now a subsidiary of EADS Defence and Security, recognised a growth in demand for a wider variety of risk assessments besides aerospace, with a main focus on the nuclear industry. Nowadays the company, employing around 350 people, is involved in many high-risk projects in different industries, ranging from oil and gas, automotive, to rail and aerospace.

IFJ met Xavier Quayzin, UK Business Development Manager at APSYS and Thierry Tixier, Head of Industrial Safety APSYS.

In France, APSYS is a household name in the high-risk community, and the company is involved in many working groups, such as the LPG, bio fuel, and ammonia, butane and propane committees.

“Our business has grown from just focussing on nuclear safety and aeronautics to a more diversified portfolio. Apart from conducting capability, reliability, maintenance and safety analysis, we can help our clients in the high-risk industries to become compliant with regulations, and therefore we look at the hardware as well as software systems. We class hardware as anything that is not software or human, so in most cases this means machinery as well as equipment,” Quayzin explained. Tixier adds that the company offers a customised service geared towards the client, and in addition it conducts studies on human factors and safety management, on the basis of which emergency plans are created. For this purpose APSYS uses the best software on the market. As well as using 2D and 3D fire, explosion and toxicology models, the company developed in-house tools which focus on system behaviours, enabling safety and reliability assessments. This means clients can get a clear view on the effectiveness of their system, so that for example maintenance costs can be reduced.

APSYS carries out consultancy work all over the world, but historically it has been most active in France and French-speaking countries such as Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. According to Quayzin the company is now expanding and looking to apply its extensive expertise to a broader geographical area. “We can help our clients get authorisation to operate their facility anywhere in the world, by writing the safety case and conducting the HAZOP (Hazard and Operability Analysis). We also advise customers on how to understand and apply regulations, and how they influence operation and plant design.”

According toTixier the company uses its own knowledge, data and expertise to asses the impact of incidents on facilities, and one such an assignment was carried out for a Total refinery in France. APSYS was asked to carry out a very specific study on the domino effect. “In this case we were asked to find out what would happen to the neighbouring units, should an explosion occur in an LPG storage tank. In this case we run different explosion models in which factors such as weather and wind direction were taken into account. When you start such a study a comprehensive risk analysis has to be carried out, and this includes the facility’s external environment as well. For instance, what is the effect of an explosion on a nearby residential population?” said Tixier.

On-site the company mainly researches the location and which protection systems should be installed, and how risks should be mitigated. In addition, APSYS looks at preventive and corrective measures that can be taken. The facility’s fire service is usually involved in this process. Quayzin emphasises that the importance of looking outside the facility’s perimeters can never be ignored and that the planning of major hazard sites can have a profound effect on the local environment. “We look at the regulations and legislation that applies around the site, and we check that everything in the plant complies. This also entails a close co-operation with local agencies. For example, in France we work closely with La Drire (Direction Regional Industriel Research Environment). The main task of this agency is to check that French regulation is actually applied on industrial sites.”

One of the conclusions of the Buncefield report was that compliance on industrial sites should be checked more often, and that is exactly what La Drire already does.
The Buncefield incident reminds both Tixier and Quayzin of what happened in France in 2001, when an explosion occurred in the AZF facility near Toulouse (a subsidiary of Total), where three hundred tons of ammonium nitrates were stored. The whole factory was destroyed making a crater of depth 20 to 30 m (65 to 100 ft), with a diameter of 200 m (650 ft), 29 people were killed and 2,5000 seriously wounded. “This incident was the worst we have had in 40 years, and people from outside the facility were seriously affected. It had a profound effect on French regulations that dealt with the planning of major hazard sites. Nowadays, a plan has to be made for each location, called the PPRT (Plan de Prevention de Risque Technologique), which means that for each identified risk the probability has to be determined as well as its gravity– even to the extent of how many fatalities it could cause amongst the general public,” said Tixier.

The risk analysis conducted according to the PPRT guidelines is an official document owned by the local authorities, which describes the different zones around a high-risk site. It also describes the measures an operator has to put in place in the individual zones, and what a local authority can implement in terms of planning. For instance, a local authority can take the decision to move a school on the basis of this document. “The PPRT re-enforces planning regulations and is close to what is called a quantitative risk assessment, which is recommended in the Buncefield report where the authors are calling out for a fully risk-based land planning system, and that is clearly what the PPRT is,” concluded Tixier.