January was a critical month for global politics, and equally so for the industrial gases community. While key representatives gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, key members from the industrial gases community descended upon Brussels at the European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA) Symposium of 2011.

This year’s symposium marked the 17th biennial event and saw delegates congregate from across the globe at Le Plaza Theatre in Brussels, Belgium. Proceedings began on 26th January and witnessed an outstanding attendance, drawing delegates from as far afield as Papua New Guinea, Japan and the USA.

Indeed, from the outset the symposium seemed destined for success thanks to the pertinence and popularity of this year’s theme – Process Safety.

Stefan Messer, owner and CEO of Messer GmbH and President of EIGA, opened proceedings by offering his perspective on the biennial event, “Dear guests and colleagues on behalf of the EIGA board I wish you a very warm welcome. I am very pleased to see so many of you here and I believe the popularity of this symposium is an indication of the importance of the topic and a reflection of the depths and levels of experience of the speakers that the Symposium Committee has assembled for you.”

Messer opened the two day event by emphasising the need for a consensus of action. He concluded, “EIGA’s mission is to help the industrial gases industry to maintain the highest level of safety. Today and tomorrow we will hear details of many serious incidents that have occurred in our industry; we must learn the lessons of these incidents to make sure that they are not repeated. This is the responsibility of everyone, from company executives and leaders, to operators, engineers and customers; and it will require the support, effort and commitment of all of us.”

An ambitious agenda
Despite only lasting two days, the winter symposium offered a comprehensive insight into process safety. Indeed, composing of four in-depth sessions, it tackled subjects as significant and diverse as Quantitative Risk Analysis to the unique demands posed by plant decommissioning.

Session one laid solid foundations, as leading figures reviewed recent safety incidents and offered food for thought. Terri Harlan, Vice President of R&M Safety at BP, guided delegates through one company’s ‘Safety Journey’ by reviewing the causes and effects of the Texas City Refinery explosion in 2005.

Subsequent speaker, Dennis Johnson, Director of Safety and Environmental Services at Praxair, offered a complimentary insight by studying the events of June 2005, when packaged gases at a facility in Missouri caught fire, through his presentation, ‘A Major Process Safety Incident and how the Industrial Gas Industry was affected.’

Following a recess, delegates resumed their seats and heard from the other side of process safety as Martin Goose ChemEnvoy for the Institution of Chemical Engineers, and the Honourable John Bresland, former Chairman and CEO of the US Chemical Safety Board imparted advice from the regulators’ perspective.

Session two, which straddled both symposium days, adopted a more technical bias. Joerg Fischer from Linde, highlighted the importance of pre-emptive design in his presentation, ‘Integration of Process and Environmental Safety in the Engineering Process.’ Likewise, Thomas Hecht and Ümit Can, also of Linde, offered insight into two different analytical approaches; Hazardous Analysis (HAZAN) and Qualitative Risk Analysis (QRA) respectively.

Day one concluded keeping to the design theme, as it addressed the complex issue of siting occupied buildings.

Thanks to Air Liquide’s Olivier Ettighoffer, Praxair’s Martin Timm and Air Products’ Martin Dennehy, delegates were treated to an overview of the guidance, best practice and review processes involved.

After utilising the chance to meet and discuss the first day’s activities, delegates reconvened for day two of the symposium to continue discussion. Moderated by previous speaker, Joerg Fischer, the presentations moved from a clear explanation of ‘Current O2 Compressor Barrier Design’, by Mike Cawthra of Air Products, to the ‘Safe Design and Operation of Cryogenic Enclosures’ thanks to the International Harmonisations Council’s global Ad Hoc Group, represented by Air Liquide’s Lian Ming Sun.

Complimenting Cawthra’s caveat, Air Liquide’s Etienne Werlen and Alain Colson, considered in turn the influence of oxygen purity on the safe operation of reboilers, as well as the ‘Oxygen’s Systems Upgrade’ programme implemented by Air Liquide.

After a caffeine reprieve, delegates congregated for the much anticipated penultimate session – Safe Operation of Plants. In apt EIGA style, this broad topic was broken-down into five digestible portions beginning with Rich Craig of Praxair’s concise presentation, ‘Dead-Ended Boiling in a Cavity’. Subsequently, Matthias Klapper from Messer analysed the safety concerns of unmanned plants, while latter speakers broached the heady topics of continuous qualification programmes and knowledge transfer in addition to safety auditing.

Following a good-humoured quiz, the agenda looked towards management and systems. Moderated by Lutz Wübbenhorst, Operations and SHE Director for Praxair Russia, the fourth session called upon a combined experiential knowledge of some 125 years.

Beginning the theme, Shakeel Kadri, Air Products’ Director of Global Process Safety & Risk Management, explained the reasons for monitoring process safety. Bert Wagner offered a glimpse into The Linde Group’s Major Hazards Review Programme, while previous speaker Dennis Johnson resumed the floor to tackle the application of Risk Based Process Safety.

Concluding the session, and indeed symposium, Rebecca Finlay and Stephen Bradley from Air Products, explored two often overlooked but imperative aspects of process safety. Finlay outlined why a rigorous Management of Change process is essential to efficacy in process safety, while Bradley rounded-up the symposium as he offered guidance and examples of responsible decommissioning.

A serious success
With three years of planning, a packed agenda and a collection of venerable speakers, it is perhaps no surprise that the 2011 symposium was a resounding success. But undoubtedly, the most telling ‘performance indicator’ - participation, offered the most accurate measure of success.

Opening speaker, Terri Harlan, summarised the importance of both this and future symposiums, “I think sharing information, lessons learned and what we find out is terribly important. At every break, you can just see the buzz in the room, I think the other thing is that organising a process safety event and getting over 270 people from around the world to attend just shows the huge interest in this topic.”

Harlan concluded, reiterating the need for ongoing discourse around process safety. She offered, “I think many of the answers that we are getting is that we are on a journey, we don’t have it all figured out, we’re learning, we need to help each other and use events like this to help us learn.”