When Health & Safety International contacted me regarding my interest in writing the feature article, “Safety for Refinery Workers” for this issue of their publication I was delighted with the opportunity. My thirty three years in the oil refining business in Senior Process Operations, Safety & Loss Management and now in Refinery Construction & Project Management gave me the experience necessary to put an article together.
I spent the next few days gathering technical information in the areas of Worker Protection Codes, Safe Work Practices and Procedures, Development and Use of Safe Work Plans, Safe Work Permit Systems, Working at Elevations, Working in Excavations, Working in Confined Spaces, Personal Protective Equipment and Clothing... just to name a few. I have developed and/or revised dozens of refinery safety manuals, written hundreds of safe work plans and thousands of safe work procedures and practices in my time. When I started putting all the information together the article took on the appearance of... yes, you guessed it... a condensed version of just another Safety Manual. Informative? Yes. But certainly very dry reading material. Every oil refinery in the world has a safety manual sitting on just about every second shelf and available at any time for your reading pleasure. This was not exactly what I wanted to present to you, the readers.
The next morning, while shaving, it suddenly dawned on me that I was staring at the person most responsible for my safety... me! After all these years in the refining business I was still alive and well because I had accepted the responsibility of my own safety while performing my work. I had read the safety manuals, many times. My knowledge of and compliance to the plant’s safety rules, regulations, policies and safe work practices and procedures was just as important as accepting the responsibility for my own safety.
I am still going to highlight some of the key elements of some primary Worker Safety Protection Codes that are standard in the oil refining industries worldwide but it won’t be in Safety Manual format.
Refinery Safety Programmes have certainly changed over the years. I recall more than three decades ago my first assignment as the only Safety Officer on a refinery turnaround with 2,500 workers. I was handed the primary tools of my new craft; a clip board with a pile of accident investigation forms attached and a pocket full of Band-Aids. The concept in those days was that if there was a Safety Officer around the job site would be a safer place to work. Unfortunately I was kept busy doing accident investigations, filling out accident forms, handing out Band-Aids for minor cuts and/or escorting injured workers to the site First Aid Facility the entire turnaround.
During that thirty five day turnaround I don’t think I made it out to the field for an inspection more than four times. Accident investigations were done for injury related accidents only and were performed either in the Safety Office or at the First Aid Facility merely by asking the injured worker to relate what happened. Handing out Band-Aids to workers for minor cuts saved time as I was not required to perform an accident investigation or complete any forms. Any accidents involving equipment damage were not written up. The equipment was merely repaired or replaced.
Thirty years ago the priority of most jobs was cost and schedule, not worker safety. That’s not to say plant Site Safety Programmes didn’t exist back then. Refinery workers did go through a brief safety orientation when they arrived on site where safety rules and regulations were reviewed. There was sufficient hazard specific personal protective equipment and clothing available in the tool crib for the workers that went beyond the standard issue of hard hats, gloves and safety glasses. And yes, even way back then there was a safety manual sitting on just about every other shelf on site
What was lacking was the specific training for workers to use much of this safety equipment and why some specific equipment and clothing should be used and/or worn. Also lacking was task specific safe work practices and procedures training for the refinery workers. Most importantly, what was lacking was any commitment by all levels of Management to ensure compliance to the Site Safety Programme. No one was really held responsible and accountable for worker safety. The Safety Officer position was primarily an administrative role and in many situations had next to no authority to take corrective measures to improve worker safety or take corrective action related to identified unsafe field conditions.
There is no comparison to the way things were thirty years ago and the way things are now in relation to safety for refinery workers. Safety went from being just a word to a value that revolves around everything we all do everyday whether at work or at home. Safety went from being a reactive function of only responding to and taking corrective action to accidents and incidents when they occurred to a proactive Loss Prevention concept which prevents accidents and incidents from occurring. Somewhere between the reactive and proactive safety approach someone actually started to read and analyse all the accident reports and was successful in getting Management to realise that a properly administered safety programme was an investment rather than an overhead cost.
The concepts of Loss Prevention later evolved into Loss Management which is a systematic Management approach towards the elimination of accidents and/or incidents that could result in worker injury and other downgrading incidents. It is a continuous, proactive approach to the reduction of risk to workers, materials, equipment and the environment. The Site Safety Programme now evolved to the Health, Safety & Environment Programme.