The prevention of man-made and natural disasters is a major concern for every sector of industry. Until now, however, there has been a noticeable lack of cross-sector co-operation on this issue. A recent EU-funded project aimed to challenge this and, in so doing, establish new standards for risk assessment.
© Fotolia, 2012|
In the past, industrial risk assessment in Europe has been characterised by diversity and fragmentation. This lack of overall coordination represents both a safety threat and a missed opportunity. By pooling resources and sharing best practices, European industry has the chance to establish the highest possible safety levels across a number of different fields.
This is where the EU-funded 'Integrated European industrial risk reduction system' (IRIS) project comes in. This international collaborative project, which was completed in March 2012, aimed to identify, quantify and mitigate existing and emerging risks in a number of sectors, leading to increased industrial safety and a reduced environmental impact.
IRIS was industry-led, and the consortium behind the project represented over 1 million workers. The initiative, which focused on saving lives through implementing more effective risk assessment, now has the potential to revolutionise Europe's approach to industrial safety.
Identifying emerging risks
"From the beginning, we were looking into industrial safety in a number of different sectors: power generation, chemicals, construction and mining," explains project coordinator Helmut Wenzel. "The idea was to create an IT platform that would be able to show safety conditions online, and provide an early-warning system."
The IRIS team began by examining the main safety problems across these sectors, investigating how to transform specific requirements and how to better integrate knowledge-based safety technologies, standards and services. Project partners were selected on the basis of their compatibility, non-competition and commitment to the subject of industrial safety.
"A major factor in our success was our ability to bring together all these different industries," says Prof. Wenzel. "This enabled the cross-fertilisation of ideas: practices in the chemical industry were applied to the nuclear industry, for example, and the highly innovative bridge engineering sector was able to bring new ideas to other sectors."
The scientific and technical work plan was based on the pre-existing knowledge of the partners. Real test cases were then selected at a nuclear power plant and a toxic chemicals plant. At the same time, a mock-up was designed for destructive testing in the laboratory.
Sealing the deal
After simulation and measurement, new sensors and actuators were developed. Sealing technologies dealing with material problems at the nano-scale were also optimised to eliminate a significant cause of failure. The end result of all this testing and development was the creation of a prototype, comprising hardware and software tools capable of providing more accurate industrial risk assessment.
"The real legacy of this project is that industry will be safer as a result," says Prof. Wenzel. "The software can now be used in real situations. It has, for example, been applied to bridge construction in Canada, China, Sweden and the UK - to bridges built in the 1950s, but also to newly built bridges, which need an accurate life cycle to ensure optimal maintenance planning."
The success of the IRIS project has shown how important it is for different industries to share information, experiences and knowledge in order to effectively achieve a common objective. In this case, taking steps towards preventing major industrial accidents will have a significant positive societal impact, as well as an economic one, since the direct and indirect costs of disasters can be huge.
Ultimately, the IRIS project is an important milestone in making European industry safer through implementing the latest advances in risk assessment. The project has shown the importance of sharing cross-sector experience, and underlined the fact that a pan-European approach is required in order to fully exploit this.