Mitigating hazards ensuring worker safety in refining and petrochemical plants

Safety in refining and petrochemical plants is crucial, as these workers deal with dangerous chemicals. The employees in this industry also handle equipment that can risk their lives. For example, employees can fall or slip when working on elevated equipment, resulting in serious bodily harm.

Steven John Cumper

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Article Summary

In some instances, the refining and petrochemical plant workers work in confined spaces, exposing them to toxic chemicals that pose health risks. It is also common for workers to lift heavy loads, which can affect their safety.

But what are the ways to reduce such risks and guarantee worker safety in petrochemical and refining facilities? This guide explains more about all these in detail.

Understanding the importance of safety in refining and petrochemical plants
Since refining and petrochemical plant workers are at risk of bodily harm or death, the companies need strict safety measures. Safety measures can help the employees and the organisation.  Some of the benefits of having the right safety measures in place include:
• Helps maintain company finance
Most of the time, the employees at refining and petrochemical plants work in risky conditions or areas. Such conditions risk workers’ lives, as they can die or get injured. When a worker gets injured at work, it is the responsibility of the company to foot the bills.¹ Some employees also sue the company, which can affect the company’s finances. However, with good safety measures in place, this will not be a concern, as everything is set.
• Boosts employee productivity
When employees feel safe at work, they become more peaceful. Less stress at work means more productivity, which is a plus for the company as this improves its revenue. Moreover, employees with no past injuries have no anxiety issues. This means that good workplace safety makes employees concentrate at work, leading to better productivity.
• Improves the company’s reputation
Having the right safety measures also improves the company’s reputation, as the turnover rate is lower. Remember, employees prefer working where their safety is well taken care of. Furthermore, top talents go to organisations where their safety is a top concern, as this reduces workplace stress. So, if the plant has the right measures, it will boost its reputation, attracting top talents in the industry.

Common hazards in refining and petrochemical operations
The common hazards in the refining and petrochemical industries include:
• Explosions and fires
The chemicals and gasses in the refining and petrochemical industries are highly flammable. Some equipment also uses electricity and frictional heat, which can be hazardous without proper safety measures. Without tight safety measures, these chemicals can lead to fires or explosions. This can damage a lot of property, leading to a financial loss.
• Confined spaces
Additionally, the workers in this sector might work in confined spaces without enough oxygen supply. Some confined spaces also have toxic chemicals that can endanger employees’ lives. For example, the employees can work in confined areas during piping and instrument installation.
• Falls
The workers in this sector are also prone to falling or slipping when working in elevated equipment spaces. Such areas might require the employees to use ladders to access them. When the workers trip or fall, it can result in bodily harm, which can be costly to treat.
• Machine hazards
Refining and petrochemical plants rely on heavy machinery for a smooth workflow. The bad part about such machines is that they can burn, cut, or cause serious injuries. So, it is important to maintain the machines regularly to reduce the risks involved.

Essential steps to prevent hazards in the refining and petrochemical plants
As a refining and petrochemical plant, having the right measures to reduce this industry’s hazards is advantageous.
Some of the essential steps to prevent such occurrences include:
• Do regular maintenance
One of the simplest ways to maintain safety in any refining or petrochemical industry is to include various equipment maintenance programs. Such programs can help maintain the machines in the right shape, reducing risky situations. The maintenance programs can also prevent premature machine failures, which can be costly to repair. They also keep the employees calm, knowing the machines are well cared for.

Maintain a good safety culture
A good safety culture can also help manage the hazards in the refining and petrochemical industries. Remember, the safety culture is where the workers have common values towards safety beyond individual reach (concerning the whole industry). When everyone is concerned about each other at work, sticking to the set rules becomes easy.

Have process safety rules² that ensure the machinery at the plant works efficiently. Such rules also prevent the unintentional release of toxic chemicals into the environment that can cause fires or explosions. Also, have the right occupational safety rules that ensure every employee minimises the chances of injury and property damage.

Let the workers know they must obey rules and communicate hazards in time to keep everyone safe. However, the top leadership in the industry must follow the safety culture to set an example. Additionally, the company must have clearly stated processes that ensure workplace safety.

Invest in technology to automate processes
Automating some processes is another commendable step a refining and petrochemical plant should take. Digitalisation can help improve safety in such industries. For example, some tools³ can detect and minimise hazards.

As an organisation, invest in smart wearables⁴ or AI technology that can help curb workplace accidents. The smart wearables can track the worker’s heat stress levels or heart rate, which are some indications of workplace risks.  

Implementing effective safety training programs for workers
Although work-related hazards are common in refining and petrochemical plants, workers must take care of their safety. One way to do this is to have the workers undergo the right safety programs. Remember, if the employees don’t know how to do their jobs safely, it is a risk for the whole company.

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