IChemE Fellows feature as experts in TV documentary about engineering safety

Article by Amanda Doyle

Left to right: Geoffrey Maitland, Dame Judith Hackitt, and Fiona Macleod

THREE IChemE Fellows will feature as experts in a new ten-part television documentary series about engineering safety incidents, to be aired on the UK Discovery Channel.

The Disasters Engineered series will feature Dame Judith Hackitt, Chair of Make UK, Fiona Macleod, Chair of the IChemE Loss Prevention Bulletin Editorial Panel, and Geoffrey Maitland, Professor of Energy Engineering at Imperial College London. They will give technical accounts and share insights into what safety professionals have learned from the incidents. The series begins at 22:00 on 15 January on the UK Discovery Channel and will examine 20 engineering disasters.

The series will feature chemical, structural, and mechanical engineering incidents across a variety of sectors including oil and gas, nuclear, mining, construction, and space travel. Each episode will look at two incidents, with the first episode featuring the Deepwater Horizon and Challenger Space Shuttle disasters. The series will examine the causes of the incidents and what changes have been implemented in industry as a result.

Dame Judith is the former Chair of the Health and Safety Executive and a past President of IChemE. She led the independent review of high-rise building regulations following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. She will speak of the importance of implementing safety practices when altering structural or construction design.

“The important thing about learning from failure is looking at what really went wrong,” said Dame Judith in an interview with IChemE. “It’s not enough to look at the surface equipment that failed. You’ve got to understand the real root causes, which often means system failures that could have been picked up before the accident occurred.

“There are much bigger lessons to be learned from failures. These lessons can be learned and applied across sectors and disciplines, so it’s important that we collectively encourage a culture that responds in a constructive way to the reporting of these incidents and sharing lessons to help prevent future occurrences.”

Maitland is also a past President of IChemE and is an expert in deep-water drilling in the oil and gas industry. He took part in more than 50 media interviews following the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010. He also chaired an independent review of the UK Offshore Oil and Gas Regulatory Regime, known as the Maitland Review.

“Thankfully incidents like those featured are rare, but they highlight that engineering processes are complicated and require skilled engineering professionals, careful management, and clear communication to manage them effectively, and minimise damage and losses when issues do occur,” said Maitland. “I took part in this documentary because it is vital that a factual account is given of the incident, and to help the public be better informed of technical processes and engineering issues, especially when incidents become widely reported upon across the world.

“It’s important to note that technical processes and complex hazards are being managed effectively by engineers on a daily basis. It is our responsibility as engineers to learn from incidents and share knowledge of good practices, in a culture of continuous improvement, so that our processes are as safe as possible.”

Macleod will feature in two episodes and speak about incidents such as the Bhopal gas leak in India.

“Managing hazards safely requires the utmost skill and commitment at a day-to-day operational level and at board level,” said Macleod. “Teamwork between disciplines throughout a project’s life is key. Although manufacturing is becoming cleaner and safer, the tragic incidents within this documentary serve as reminders that we must never become complacent.

“At IChemE we share best practice and lessons in process safety through our member communities, training courses and articles in the Loss Prevention Bulletin (a 45-year archive of lessons learned from incidents). We also run a leading process safety conference called Hazards (held annually in the UK, Australasia and Asia Pacific) and the IChemE Safety Centre, a not-for-profit industry consortium focussed on sharing knowledge, produces various case studies and guidance materials.

“We must continue to share lessons with financial decision-makers, politicians, our peers in academia, industry, across the different sectors and engineering disciplines to enhance safety for everyone and wider society.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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