14th November 2019
New IChemE President focusses on systems thinking and the big picture for process safety
STEPHEN RICHARDSON, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London, has been appointed as the 79th President of IChemE.
Richardson’s Presidential Address was delivered on 12 November in London after he was presented with the ceremonial Chain of Office by outgoing President Ken Rivers.
Entitled Process safety: the big picture and the systems approach, the address focussed on the need to look at the whole system to ensure plants and processes are working efficiently and safely.
Richardson explored the causes of the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in July 1988 and the lessons learned from the public inquiry, during which he spent a significant amount of time as an expert witness. He used this example to explain how the systems thinking approach should be used across all chemical engineering activities, as well as volunteering activities at IChemE.
He said: “I worry that the lessons learned so painfully from accidents are gradually lost by succeeding generations. Corporate memory is short and, regrettably, it is getting shorter.
“From a safety perspective, Piper was not an island: the system was not just Piper. Getting the system right is key when considering safety.
“Safety is nothing without a systems approach and it is key, not just to safety, but to all of chemical engineering.”
For more than 30 years, Richardson has worked at Imperial College London teaching chemical engineering and researching depressurisation of high-pressure hydrocarbon systems. During this time, he became an expert in process safety and investigated many major process accidents in the oil and gas industry.
He also jointly developed a computer programme, BLOWDOWN, which has been used on over 300 installations worldwide.
Commenting on his plans for IChemE during his 18-month tenure as President, Richardson made it clear that making IChemE a leading voice in process safety would be a focus, highlighting the need to join up activities to make them more impactful. He also made the case for giving more support to chemical engineering departments, to ensure that they, and their graduates, are fit for the future.
He also noted that the recognition of IChemE volunteers would be top of his priorities, as well as ensuring IChemE goes on to deliver a successful centenary celebration in 2022.
The 2019 Presidential Address was live-streamed and a recording is available to view here: www.youtube.com/icheme
An in-depth interview with Richardson will appear in the coming issue of The Chemical Engineer magazine.