Embedding HSE in the Middle East's EPC contracting culture

OPINION: Regulations and HSE initiatives are critical, but a safety-focused mindset is required to make refinineries LTI-free

How can refineries be made safer? [representational image]
How can refineries be made safer? [representational image]

The Middle East – home of the UAE’s Adnoc Group and Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company – is among a busy global hub for energy construction projects. Contractors – particularly those specialising in engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) – are key to the delivery of these projects. In this opinion piece, Martin Menachery, editor of Construction Week’s sister title Refining & Petrochemicals ME, explores how the regional EPC contracting sector is evolving to meet growing health and safety needs.

Health, safety, and environment (HSE) is an integral part of the refining and petrochemical industry and is important to every stakeholder of the sector. The industry operates in an environment where hazardous materials, heavy equipment, and high temperature and pressure are normal elements.

As a result of consistent campaigns and stringent regulations by government and industry bodies as well as internal HSE endeavours of the operators and contractors, downstream industry is becoming an increasingly safer place to work. This is demonstrated by the declining number of incidents, injuries, and illnesses in the industry.

At the same time, the recent incidents of refinery fires point to the vulnerability of the refining and petrochemical industry in HSE-related matters.

Recently, a massive explosion and fire caused substantial damage to the refinery complex of Philadelphia Energy Solutions. In another recent incident, 37 people were injured in a fire in one of the ExxonMobil refinery facilities in Houston.

It is worth mentioning here that HSE-related incidents, injuries, and illnesses are on the decline in the Middle East’s refining and petrochemical industry. One of the main reasons for this is the serious implementation of internal HSE campaigns by the operators and EPC contractors, apart from strict compliance with regulations by governments and standards by industry bodies like American Petroleum Institute.

Adnoc’s ‘100% HSE’ is a strong example for continuous improvement in HSE and process safety. The company’s employees and contractors are at the heart of the programme, and enforce and implement the company’s HSE policy; identify and mitigate risks; and keep themselves and their colleagues safe.

All Adnoc employees are empowered and obliged to intervene in unsafe situations, address the issue, and ensure that the company policies and procedures are followed. As a result, Abu Dhabi’s refining and petrochemical industry remains one of the safest in the world, with a lost-time injury frequency rate that is considerably lower than the global industry average.

Another example from the region for its stringent implementation of HSE standards is McDermott’s performance in completing its part of the Liwa Plastics Industries Complex (LPIC) project by Oman Oil & Orpic Group. The contracting company recently completed 50 million man-hours without a lost-time injury on the project.

While we have so many rules, regulations, and standards on HSE in the region – and numerous training sessions and awareness campaigns are consistently organised – it is the mindset and work culture that matter most in keeping a refining and petrochemical facility safe for the employees, contractors, and the community around.

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