Major Accident Indicators in High-Risk Industries—A Literature Review

Major accidents, such as the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005 and the Macondo well blowout in 2010, confirm the need for process-safety indicators. However, despite increased attention on process-safety indicators, there is no proof and agreement about valid, effective, and reliable indicators. The principle objective of this research, initiated by the Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) has been to improve the knowledge of safety-relevant indicators in the petroleum industry, in particular related to validity, effectiveness, and reliability. A focused literature review was carried out to provide information on the following three stated subjects, or research questions (RQs).

  • RQ1—What does the literature state about relationships between indicators and major accident risk?
  • RQ2—What does the literature state about the effect of use of indicators?
  • RQ3—What does the literature state about the conditions in the surroundings or the context having an effect on the reliability of the indicator?

The literature review covered recent literature (from 2009) on the use of indicators in high-risk industries, and a total of 174 documents were reviewed. In addition, implications and possible challenges to the petroleum industry and authorities were discussed and results outlined. Altogether, 15 specific challenges are addressed, pointing at both the industry/companies and the authorities, but also the research institutions. A main conclusion is that there is lack of documented relationships between indicators and major accident risk, proven effects of the use of indicators and proof of conditions affecting the reliability of the indicators. More empirical research is needed to document the validity, effectiveness, and reliability of process safety indicators.

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