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February 28, 2018
Category: Research Projects 

Collaboration and Impact in Research Program 4

Energy Pipelines CRC research programs have been recognised throughout the years for the quality of collaborative relationships as well as the impact of industry driven outcomes. In this edition, Research Program 4, covering Public Safety and Security of Supply research projects has been summarised and examined to highlight the impact this research has had, and will continue to have, on the Australian pipeline industry.

Energy Pipelines CRC Research Program Four has the goal of sustaining the world’s best practice safety performance of Australian energy pipelines. This program analyses the human and organisational dimensions in the operation of and interaction with pipelines. The research has been led by Dr Jan Hayes at RMIT University, supported by a number of post-doctoral researchers and students. The work is mentored by Emeritus Professor Andrew Hopkins at ANU and Professor Ron Wakefield at RMIT University. These researchers are supported by a dedicated team of industry advisors.

Jan Hayes at IPC 2014The human and organisational factors that influence the potential for disaster are addressed in a comprehensive research program that embodies three distinct areas of research. The first research area, Effective Safety Regulation, has improved safety and reliability of pipelines through more focussed regulatory activity which reduces overall regulatory compliance costs for industry as activities are better targeted. The second research area, Organisational Safety, has led to an increased awareness and understanding of organisational causes of incidents that occurred overseas or in other sectors, leading to prevention of similar problems in Australia. The third research area, Pipelines in the Community, improves safety and reliability of pipelines by reducing the potential for external interference through better communications between pipeline operators and others who control activity near pipeline assets.

The research aims primarily to influence professional practice and so avoid pipeline incidents. Therefore, the Energy Pipelines CRC has taken an innovative approach to ensuring impact of its research by 1) incorporating research results into the relevant industry standard; 2) providing a large number of workshops, talks and seminars for industry; and 3) engaging directly with industry and pipeline technical regulators.

To facilitate the relationships required between the social science community and the Australian pipeline industry, an industry led steering committee has been established to oversee and guide the research program. Furthermore, regulators forums and industry-research seminars are held to ensure that the research outputs produced are relevant to and used by the end-user.

The RP4 Steering Committee was chaired enthusiastically by Peter Tuft from 2010 to early 2015. Peter effectively spanned the boundary between academia and industry, connected researchers to relevant industry players and vice versa building important relationships. Subsequent chairs of the Steering Committee are the South Australian technical regulator, Michael Malavazos and APA Group’s Manager for National Transmission Operations, Edwin De Prinse.

In addition to collaboration in the Australian pipeline sector, Jan also chairs an international working group involving members of the Australian Pipelines and Gas Association, the North American centred Pipelines Research Council International, and the European Pipeline Research Group. The working group, called ‘Focusing on organisation safety and human factors’, provides a mechanism through which research outcomes have influence internationally.

These relationships facilitated through these groups have assisted in the uptake of research outcomes creating meaningful impact for industry particularly through application to Standards and organisational practices.

Since 2013, Jan and her team have been working in collaboration with industry and regulators on a major update to AS2885 (particularly parts one and six), the Australian Standard for Gas and Petroleum Pipelines. Working closely with the chair of the committee, Peter Tuft, Jan has sought to ensure that all relevant aspects of the social science work have been seriously considered for inclusion. This includes:

  1. Providing support for professional engineering judgements made regarding risk acceptability in accordance with the principle of As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP).
  2. Improving guidance for communicating with third parties who intend to work around pipelines (and may inadvertently damage them). 
  3. Improving communication to senior management regarding the potential consequences of pipeline failure and so the impact of management decisions.
  4. Improving design office practices to ensure that time, cost and quality/safety objectives are appropriately balanced.

The first three points are in the current draft and the last point is to be the subject of an Australian Pipelines and Gas Association Code of Practice.

To strengthen the impact of the public safety research program, a significant research dissemination effort has been undertaken. Since 2012, Jan has delivered over 100 workshops, lectures and talks to large industry audiences, small professional groups, at academic conferences and to students. This represents over 6,000 person-hours of engagement. These have been critical in supporting a change across the industry where we now see an even stronger focus on public safety in all levels of the organisations.

Collaboration and impact stretches to other sectors. As an example, research into the impact of personal liability concerns on high stakes engineering decision-making started within the pipeline industry but has been picked up with interest by the peak engineering professional body, Engineers Australia (EA) and has contributed to a national conversation within the engineering profession on this topic. EA has supported survey participation by their members. Jan was an invited speaker at the EA National Convention in November 2016 and has spoken at numerous EA technical meetings on this topic. Jan is also working collaboratively with researchers and practitioners in both the French civil nuclear sector and the Norwegian oil industry (Norwegian University of Science and Technology).

The outcomes of this program have been recognised by industry for their impact and long term benefits. As part of a series of interviews with industry stakeholders held in 2017 to assess the value and impact of the Energy Pipelines CRC’s research programs, a number of industry representatives mentioned the research projects conducted in relation to public safety. In particular, research into risk acceptability and the application of the “as low as reasonably practicable” (ALARP) principle was singled out:

“It provides good design guidance and principles for sound design. It is also raising awareness of senior management around risk and safety issues across the board and the need to manage them actively.”

Susan Jaques is Chair of the Standards Committee ME-038. This committee is responsible for the review and updating of the AS2885 series which is the Australian Standard for Gas and Petroleum Transmission pipelines. Susan has acknowledged the influence of the research on the forthcoming revision of the standards and notes that the:
“Practical application of Dr Hayes’ research in the industry is wide-spread, ranging from changing the way our risk assessments are done, through to greater awareness about the safety implications when subcontracting excavation work.”

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