Fatal Explosion At Wessex Water’s Bristol Plant: A Long Way To Go Towards Effective Process Safety Management

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Fatal Explosion At Wessex Water’s Bristol Plant: A Long Way To Go Towards Effective Process Safety Management

Yesterday’s explosion at a Wessex Water recycling plant resulted in four fatalities and one injury, making it one of the worst industrial safety accidents in the UK for several years. The investigation to identify the root cause of the incident and determine any culpability will involve a number of agencies and will be led by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Based on initial statements there appears to have been an explosion inside a silo which contained biosolids and potentially lime. The workers – three employees and a contractor – killed by the blast were said to have been working on top of the silo at the time of the blast.

Process safety management (PSM) is a complex function within any industrial plant – not just those in the petro-chemicals sector. This theme was brought up by several speakers during the Verdantix virtual event Next and Best Practices: Mastering Process Safety Management. PSM primarily comprises safety barriers applied to processes that involve the handling, use, storage or manufacturing of hazardous chemicals. The primary objective of PSM systems is to reduce the probability of a fire, explosion or loss of containment occurring or to mitigate the magnitude of the consequence.

To eliminate fatalities and serious injuries, experts agree that much more can be done with technology solutions. Unfortunately, the water utilities industry has been following a conservative approach to digitisation, primarily limited by its constricted and heavily regulated budgets. In the upcoming Verdantix global operational excellence survey of 259 executives in operations, maintenance, process safety, and engineering positions, the water industry ranked last among 14 industries in usage of software and digital tools for both process hazard analysis and asset maintenance-related activities. Firms seeking to improve PSM should consider digital tools such as Sphera’s Dynamic Risk PathwaysOperational Safety Management from AVEVA or the SIMOPS and Materials Manager from MODS.

These fatalities are a stark reminder of how important PSM is and will hopefully trigger a paradigm shift in the water utilities industry. This news is coming nine months into AMP7, the UK water industry’s new five-year asset management and investment period, which could cause firms to prioritize resources to support safe operations over service delivery and performance.

To improve your process safety management digital capabilities attend the forthcoming Verdantix Next & Best Practices virtual event “World Class SIF and HiPo Prevention”.

David Metcalfe


David is the CEO of Verdantix and co-founded the firm in 2008. Based on his 20 years of experience in technology strategy and research roles he provides guidance on digital strategies to C-level executives at technology providers, partners at private equity firms and function heads at large corporations. His current focus is on helping clients understand their market opportunity tied to ESG investment trends and their impact on corporate sustainability strategies. During his 12 years running Verdantix – including 4 leading the New York office – he has helped dozens of clients grow their businesses through fund raising, acquisitions and international growth. David was previously SVP Research at Forrester and Head of Analysis & Forecasting at BT. He holds a PhD from Cambridge University and also worked as a Research Associate at the Harvard Business School.

Senior Analyst

Victor is a Senior Analyst in the Verdantix Operational Excellence practice. His research agenda focuses on asset management solutions and their overlap with industrial risk management technologies and digital twins. His advisory portfolio includes go-to-market, growth strategy, commercial due diligence and digital strategy projects for corporates, vendors and investors. Prior to joining Verdantix, Victor was a research associate at Imperial College London and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, providing engineering advisory services for clients in the energy industry (oil & gas, nuclear and solar). Victor holds a PhD in Process Engineering from University College London.