Hazard sites on track to deal with millennium bug

Most major hazard sites do not expect any significant safety problems from the so-called millennium bug, according to a report published on December 9.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned report shows that about 94 percent of hazard sites – typically industrial sites with the largest inventories of hazardous chemicals – had a documented millennium date strategy in place.

The report also found that, by mid-1998, most of these sites had identified equipment containing date-sensitive software or microchips and were beginning the process of assessment and remediation.

Around two thirds of the sites had completed a safety-related inventory of equipment and nearly one third had carried out an assessment of the potential impact on safety.

About 10 percent of sites reported they were already compliant, and 45 percent had the end of 1998 as a target date for completion of their programmes. Only 5 percent had not begun the assessment process.

The W.S. Atkins survey was based on 237 replies to a questionnaire sent out to 294 sites between May and July of this year.

The HSE’s wanted to get information about: the approach major hazard sites were taking to the problem; the progress made in dealing with it; the nature of problems identified; and the level of support from equipment manufacturers.

The report shows that some operational sectors are more advanced than others: above-average rates of progress were being made in the oil/gas refining, bulk storage and gas distribution and storage sectors, while the chemical manufacturing sector was making average progress in establishing an inventory of systems. The water and industrial gases companies were below average.

The results are caused by : differences in complexity of types of plant in different sectors; by some companies having more sites to address than others; and by non-returns to the survey – especially in sectors where there is a small number of operators.

The most common reasons given for systems failures related to clock functions (21 percent), operating system/control firmware (17 percent), and application software (7 percent). However, the survey showed that in many cases the cause had not yet been categorised. A high percentage of companies were examining their supply chains, and about 31 percent of sites had been contacted by their suppliers. About 13 percent of suppliers were recommending modification or change of hardware or software to achieve millennium compliance.

In nearly 20 per cent of cases, suppliers were either failing to provide an adequate level of support or could not be contacted. Questioned whether they would achieve compliance for their safety-related systems by the end of 1999, companies’ predictions in respect of 212 sites, out of the total of 237, were that 100 per cent compliance would be achieved at 209 sites.

Copies of “Major Hazard Sites and the Millennium Problem,” by Ian G Lines of W S Atkins Safety and Reliability, ISBN 0 7176 1639 8,price £20.00, are available from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 6FS, tel: 01787-881165 or fax: 01787-313995.

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