During the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions and social distancing across the world, many meetings are being held “virtually” using various online meeting platforms e.g. WebEx, MS Teams, Skype, Zoom, etc. I have facilitated process safety and major hazard identification, risk assessment and project review workshop meetings over many years, so it has been interesting this year to see a very quick shift in the company safety experts’ thinking around online workshops.
Before COVID-19, workshop meetings like HAZID, HAZOP and risk assessments would (as much as practical) always be face to face; online was the exception in a few meetings for those who couldn’t travel or be in the same place at the same time. The facilitator, scribe and core team were always in the same room. This was to ensure a quality study outcome, i.e. all core team attendees in one meeting room able to interact directly with the facilitator and others in the room, keep up to speed with all conversations and use paper, whiteboards, drawings, etc. to explain their argument and reasoning. The current thinking during pandemic restrictions is that it is completely acceptable for all attendees to be in remote locations around the country, sometimes calling in from numerous countries and multiple time zones if multinational workshop teams are required. I’ve even sat through multinational project HAZOP workshops held over several weeks with the facilitator and scribe in a different country to everyone else and over 50 people listening in (only maybe 10 actually said anything!) So how can this work given it was the exception rather than the rule for 30+ years before 2020?
Please don’t misunderstand me here; the current situation is a “needs must” to ensure completion of safety critical formal reviews and risk assessments to meet project deadlines or make facility changes safely. The online workshops are thus needed now during the pandemic period before project modifications or facility changes are made to understand, minimise and control the hazards and risks identified. However, we should be wary that once this Pandemic period is over that virtual workshops may not move back to being the “less preferred” option although they probably should in my opinion for the numerous draw backs listed below versus face to face review meetings.
What types of workshop reviews does this blog cover?
What can go wrong in online workshops and how to fix them:
All or a combination of these issues results in:
Employ experienced Facilitators and Scribes for online workshops
None of this advice is useful without an experienced facilitator and scribe to lead the meeting to a successful conclusion. Online meetings are not the place for training up the HAZOP leaders of the future or to blood a new recruit into the scribe hot-seat. These are both skilled jobs that need to be at the top of their game to keep online workshop meetings on track.
Prepare your online workshop for success
There are numerous checklists and discussion groups available to set yourself up for success in face to face or online workshops. Here is a free HAZOP prep checklist to get you started:
Need to train your employee's in HAZOP before a review? E-Learning may be an option for you. Trial a module from our HAZOP e-learning course to get a feel for the course.