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From the front
TERMINALS One significant outcome of recent accidents at terminals and storage facilities is that operators and users are taking a more structured approach to safety. At last month’s ILTA conference, two cargo owners described how they go about it
The concept of ‘safety leadership’ has crept into the vocabularies of terminal operators and their clients ever since the Buncefield explosion in 2005. Combined with other events, not least the Texas City refinery blast earlier that year, it is becoming evident that merely counting slips, trips and falls does not give an accurate impression of a facility’s operational safety standards and that the management of safety within the factory gates is a discipline that needs to be taken onboard.
At this year’s annual conference of the International Liquid Terminals Association (ILTA), two major shippers presented some of the lessons they have learned from the application of safety leadership and Responsible Care concepts. The two very different papers both demonstrated that significant improvements in safety performance are available, without any great cost.
Lance Nunez, global EHS outplant terminal leader for Dow Chemical, explained that his company uses some 450 warehouses and 150 bulk liquids terminals worldwide to handle its products. Given the corporate commitment to Responsible Care, it takes seriously the risks posed by its products when they are in a service provider’s possession and tracks accident performance closely.
Partners in safety
When choosing a new third-party partner, Dow undertakes an initial EHS assessment of the entire facility, not just those parts that its products will occupy. This happens before a commercial agreement is signed and again periodically during the course of the contract. All assessments are recorded and tracked on Dow’s global database, allowing staff around the world to verify that a particular facility is approved for use.
Dow uses the Chemical Distribution Institute’s terminals audit protocol, CDI-T, as well as its own assessment procedures, which are closely modelled on the CDI-T questionnaire but are undertaken using its own staff. This can be quicker, Lance said. The point of the assessment is not just to verify that a terminal is operating according to industry standards but also to set a basis for continuous improvement. After the assessment, Dow reviews the report with the terminal’s own personnel and identifies action items that are then tracked through to completion.
Terminals found to be performing below satisfactory levels will be reassessed more frequently; Dow may even exit the commercial agreement because of poor performance and, although it does not like to do so, exercised this option three times last year, Lance said.
Every facility has some ‘bad news’, Lance continued, whether it is small incidents, performance issues or non-compliances. It is how these are dealt with that marks out the good performer. And this does not happen by accident: reliable organisations know that good information gathering is crucial to knowing what is going wrong and are designed to facilitate the upflow of information through functional reporting lines and regular mechanisms for feedback of safety compliance issues to management. This takes leadership.
“Inherently reliable organisations are paranoid,” Lance said. They know the next big incident could be just around the corner and are constantly on the lookout for evidence. This means that they have to avoid the mindset that protects management from bad news or discourage employees from pointing out safety risks. And to keep the information flow moving, management needs to be seen to be acting on information provided.
Metrics are the key to measuring safety performance and these must be chosen carefully. “What gets measured gets done,” Lance said. People appreciate clearly stated goals. He also made a distinction between personal safety and process safety: the former tends to measure lagging indicators – things that have gone amiss already – whereas properly identified process safety metrics can often point to problems that lie ahead. He advised operators to track leading indicators such as critical alarms, preventative maintenance non-compliance and product releases. Any high-high level alarm incident is a final warning, he said. It means the site is one step from disaster and each such event needs serious investigation. Furthermore, he said, mission-critical operations and decisions should not be under the sole control of one person.
A key element in good safety management is preventative maintenance. Well designed and execute programmes pay numerous dividends in terms of better reliability and efficiency but it is also noticeable, Lance said, that deferred maintenance has been identified in half of all incidents. He reminded the audience not to forget drainage – he often sees incomplete or inaccurate drainage plans yet the management of spills and firewater demands that terminal operators know where the liquid is heading.
His tips for engaging the workforce came down to four elements:
- make it personal, as this helps change behaviour;
- ask open-ended questions of employees;
- create an environment where employees feel empowered; and
- escalate issues
– and respond.
Instructions from above
A more conceptual view on safety processes was provided by three Hess Corp personnel, who took the idea of safety leadership into the real world in a rather evangelical presentation. In practical terms, safety leadership is about influencing others, said Britt Howard, EHS adviser for Hess’s upstream activities. Safety leadership means instilling the sort of awareness that means employees will do the right thing for safety constantly – not just when the supervisor is around – and will follow the rules, identify and mitigate hazards, and influence others to work safely.
Ultimately, safety leadership is about getting people to work safely because they want to work safely – and get home in one piece after their shift. This means getting employees to buy into the programme, to feel empowered to control their own destiny.
It follows that safety leaders have certain characteristics – leadership, man-management skills and communication skills. They need to be consistent, patently honest and approach issues rapidly. Putting a framework of safety leaders together is not an easy task and organisational change doesn’t happen overnight. Hess started on the process in 1995 at the behest of the CEO and took years to extend it throughout the organisation. The benefits really started to be seen once employees began to see action and to take part in the process. They are encouraged to go to other facilities and share their experiences.
In order to put the leadership programme in place, a few new people were brought in at corporate level but not at each terminal. Rather, individuals were identified who could take the process on. One of those, Richard Hamilton, shared the podium with Britt and with one of his protégés, Tom Nash. It was glaringly obvious that the three men shared not only a commitment to the philosophy but a deep respect for each other, something that came over as a lesson to all those in the room and a model for how the concept of ‘safety leadership’ should behave in practice.
More reports from the ILTA conference will be included in forthcoming issues of HCB.