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Mike Fynes, Smith Flow

Control, UK, discusses

human performance in valve


ajor oil and gas operating companies are

progressively adopting the Human Factors
Engineering Discipline (HFE) to ensure quality,
safety and fit for purpose equipment and
facilities. Human factors are all those considerations that
enhance or improve human performance in the workplace and
negate the possibility of human error.
The Health and Safety Executives (HSE) Accident
Prevention Advisory Unit and others have shown that human
error is a major contributor in 90% of accidents, 70% of
which could have been prevented by management action. An
incident may involve the failure of a number of additional
barriers and controls, which may include poor organisational
decisions, in order for human error to have serious

Figure 1. Worker with pipeline

machinery at an oil refinery.


Five factors have been identified that contribute to human

performance: people, nature of work, work organisation and
structure, equipment and the work environment.1 The aims
of HFE seek to reduce the risk to health of personnel and
the environment, to eliminate or reduce the consequences
of human error, to increase efficiency and productivity and
improve user acceptance of new facilities. This article will
focus mainly on human performance in valve operations.
The UK Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places
responsibilities on people who design, manufacture or supply
equipment for use at work to ensure as far as is reasonably
possible that it is safe. Internationally, there is a visible shift
of emphasis in safety legislation from the sole reliance of
prescriptive regulations to a risk management (goal setting)
approach. Responsibility should sit with the company to
put in place company-specific standards and specifications
to ensure that risks and hazards are minimised. In fact, most
of the major operating companies now have their own HFE
technical standards.
The risk management approach can be applied to
ensure processes are introduced that reduce the possibility
of design-induced risks to health, personnel, process safety
or environmental performance while at the same time,
ensuring efficiency and productivity prevails. This approach
places responsibility on owners and operators to adopt
best available technology and methodology to ensure

HFE valve considerations

General HFE principles suggest undertaking a valve analysis
to rank valves according to their importance and frequency
of use. Valves should be selected, located and labelled so
that they can be operated, maintained and inspected with
accessibility appropriate to their service, without exposing
operators to risk of injury. Equally, consideration should
be made to accessibility and operational risk in established
plants so that any possible ongoing safety issues are
The HFE design requirements with regard to location and
orientation are mainly applicable to manual valves but also
apply to motorised, mobile actuator or otherwise remotely
operated valves if their expected criticality is such that they
may need rapid or frequent manual intervention either to
override or manually operate them, or to visually check their
Considerations should include the task involved what
are operators expected to do? Can they access the valve with
ease, or is it located out of reach or squeezed between other
equipment that could prove risky to reach and operate? Does
the valve require high levels of torque and does the opening
and closing of the valve need excessive force, using prolonged
repetitive motions with a static or awkward posture? Are
all members of the workforce capable of undertaking this
task? And does the weather (extreme heat or cold) or other
environmental conditions play a role in how easily the valve
can be opened/closed?

Portable valve actuator case study

At a petrochemical plant in Singapore, operators were
straining themselves to open and close large valves that were
not actuated. These valves were 14 in. 1500# gear operated
gate valves and required two operators to manually open the
valve; this took 20 minutes on average. HFE considerations
here involved personnel safety and efficiency. The valve
operation was physically demanding, labour intensive and
Figure 2. EasiDrive portable valve actuator effortlessly opens
took a long time to complete.
and closes valves.
To support plant operations, Smith Flow Controls local
Distributor, Triple-Max Engineering Pte, supplied
EasiDrive a portable valve actuator. Such
a system is ideal for the operation of valves
that require a high number of turns, or are
difficult to operate because of high torque or
in circumstances where climatic conditions
can seriously impair operator functionality and
effectiveness. One operator can open/close
multiple valves with a single tool while reducing
fatigue and injury risk. It complements the needs
of an increasingly diverse workforce and can be
used regardless of operator strength.
EasiDrive greatly improved productivity
and performance at the petrochemical site. It
provided users with complete control, ensuring
the required torque was applied at all times
and operators were kept safe, even when under
Figure 3. FlexiDrive a valve cable drive system for the oil and gas and
pressure to respond quickly. Only one operator
petrochemical industries.

World Pipelines / REPRINTEED FROM JANUARY 2014

was needed to operate the large gate valves and the time
taken was reduced from an average of 20 minutes to five. The
risk of injury was alleviated and it satisfied the general aims of
HFE identified by the International Association of Oil & Gas

Addressing valve accessibility

Even with non-critical valves, permanent accessibility is
desirable. Operators may be required to operate hard to reach
valves or faced with restricted access conditions, due to
other process equipment and pipes, which can in turn make
the valve hard to operate. In order to overcome such issues,
dangerous or inaccessible valves can be operated through
the use of a remote valve operator, which is a cost-effective
safety tool for companies to remotely control valve
operations from a safe distance.
Smith Flow Controls FlexiDrive allows the user to locate
a point of operation at a preferred vantage point. This could
be a safe area, or in a better, ergonomic position, discouraging
potentially unsafe behaviour like climbing on valves to gain
access. FlexiDrive removes problems associated with confined
entry points and can also be submerged into flooded pits.
Its linear drive cable delivers rotary torque at distances up to
30+ m and can pass through walls and floors. Major operating
companies such as BP, Exxon, Chevron and Shell have all used
FlexiDrive to overcome issues of accessibility.
Such a remote drive system fulfils the guidelines of
HFE by eliminating potentially difficult design issues in a

cost-effective way. It overcomes obstructions to access

and can increase operator safety from valves in potentially
hazardous areas.

Even where 90% of accidents are thought to be caused by
human error, some consideration should be made to the
suitability of the working environment. Incidents may occur
as a consequence, whether direct or indirect, of a failure to
properly consider the environment as it relates to human
performance. As a result, human error can be design-induced.
Design features should support critical human tasks,
especially in potentially dangerous valve operations. The aims
of HFE are to reduce risk to personal health and process safety
and reduce the likelihood of errors occurring. The adoption of
HFE best practice ensures that adequate controls are in place
to reduce the possibility of injury and potential for human
Smith Flow Controls drive systems are an example of a
cost effective solution, complimentary to the HFE discipline.
The drive systems alleviate possible safety concerns and can
be used across an array of industries to support safe and
successful valve operations.


Human Factors Engineering in Projects, International Association of Oil and Gas

Producers, August 2011.

REPRINTED FROM JANUARY 2014 / World Pipelines