Low-Probability High-Consequence (LPHC) events are accidents that are unexpected, with few similar historical events; however, when they do happen the impact is extreme. With few prior events available to learn from, it can be difficult for a single company or organization to completely understand, manage and fully mitigate the risks involved with LPHC events. This is because they do not have enough learning opportunities to improve their overall risk management performance, and properly address the hazards.
Part of the problem in managing against LPHC events occurring has been the lack of appropriate metrics. While efforts are underway by industry to develop a suite of Process Safety metrics, there is still a gap where Operational Safety is concerned.
The author proposes that the best way to reduce the risks is by working issues at a sector or total industry level, rather than on a company by company basis. At an industry sector level there is greater knowledge and awareness of a larger number of previous events and a broader group of experts to develop industry practices and risk management guidelines.
Examples are given of how successful this concept has been for a specific hazard, then at a national level, and finally in the geophysical sector of the oil and gas industry between the International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC) HSE&S Steering Committee and International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) Geophysical HSSE Sub-committee, where contractors and operators have worked together on Health, Safety, Security and Environmental (HSSE) issues for a number of years.
The oil and gas industry can improve its overall safety performance for LPHC events by working at a global sector level, or even globally across the industry by better sharing of the right kind of information on incidents. In addition, industry should capture the key aspects and lesson learned in databases that can then be used for several purposes: to drive the development of guidance documents; to help create improved and more consistent risk assessments across industry; to help develop the improved metrics still needed for Operational Safety, and potentially to guide any new regulatory requirements.
To accomplish all of this on a global basis may require the creation of a new industry body. It is worth bearing in mind what occurred in the US after the Three Mile Island nuclear incident. The nuclear power industry was at risk, and it established the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) in 1979, with a mission to "promote the highest levels of safety and reliability – to promote excellence – in the operation of commercial nuclear power plants". In the 30 years since INPO was established it has built an excellent safety and reliability record, but they are still cognizant of continuing challenges. The best way forward may be to establish a similar but global body for the world-wide oil and gas industry.