Energy Institute whitepaper on safety critical task analysis

UK body investigates ‘disparity’ in accident reporting, proposes methodology for safety analysis.

The UK Energy Institute has just released a 60 page whitepaper titled ‘Guidance on human factors safety critical task analysis (SCTA)’ which addresses a ‘disparity’ in major accident safety reports. These tend to focus on ‘technical’ failure, neglecting human factors. This despite ‘widespread awareness’ that accidents like Piper Alpha, Chernobyl and Texas City were in part caused by human failure.

SCTA can be performed at design time to anticipate risks by identifying hazards and deciding which tasks are safety critical. Next understand and categorize critical tasks to pinpoint potential human failures. Then work to remediate such.

For brownfields, accident reports and risk assessments may be available. For new builds, SCTA needs to start early on. The report refers to a variety of UK and international standards impacting SCTA. The approach also includes risk matrices, checklists and various scoring systems. The interplay between human and machine may be unclear in the face of automated alarms, trips, and relief valves. The approach is to ‘think through’ each task to identify SCTs. Data collection is key—a trio of documents, interviews and ‘interactive observation.’

Hierarchical task analysis is used to break down SCTs into sub-activities to identify critical situations and design mitigation procedures with the intent to reduce the risk to ‘as low as reasonably possible’ (ALARP).

The EI whitepaper is undoubtedly a useful contribution to the canon even if it does raise the specter of ‘paralysis by analysis.’ But there is far too much jargon and too many acronyms for comfort. Using more straightforward English would have helped get the message out to a non specialist audience in a less painful manner. The report is a free download on

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