How to Implement a Successful Refinery Safety Plan

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Refinery safety plan best practices include establishing elements required in the plan, determining enforcement and creating the program. Each refinery has unique needs. Therefore, every safety plan must conform to the specific requirements of the site. Additionally, safety plans need regular reevaluation to ensure they remain up-to-date with the latest technology changes and industry requirements.

Elements to Include in a Refinery Safety Plan

Safety plans for refineries include protecting the physical safety of employees and the plant. Fire protection, occupational safety and process safety are the three pillars that should make up any customized plan for a plant. These types of rules prevent fires, protect workers and reduce hazardous chemical releases. Due to the specific nature of refineries in their arrangement and chemicals on-site, each site will have its own customized safety plan.

Fire Protection

Fire protection safety should include methods of prevention and suppression. The American Petroleum Institute (API) works with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to create fire safety standards published by both organizations. The various standards the API recommends for fire protection cover potential ignition hazards, use of fire arresters and spray systems, fireproofing facilities and preventing ignitions.

Not all of these guidelines will apply to every facility. For instance, Recommended Practice (RP) 2218 specifically covers on-shore petroleum processing facilities with processing pools and how to fireproof those pools to reduce loss.

Occupational Safety

Occupational safety rules aim to ensure all workers, both employees and contractors, work in a manner that minimizes the chances for incidents that could damage property or injure personnel. Examples of the standards and recommended practices from API for occupational safety include the following:

  • Safe practices for welding or hot tapping
  • Appropriate methods for operating vacuum trucks that handle combustible liquids
  • Working safely in confined, inert spaces
  • Contractor safety guidelines
  • Training and enforcement of safety guidelines for contractors

As with fire protection, every refinery must have safety rules that apply to its operations. For instance, in facilities that more frequently use contractors, focusing on clear contractor safety guidelines and implementing those will be crucial to overall plant protection.

Process Safety

Process safety rules establish the safe, reliable operation of the machinery at a facility. These guidelines should protect the facility and its surrounding areas from unintentional releases of toxic products that may lead to fires or explosions.

A plant should have plans to reduce emissions and prevent spills or other releases that could impact the neighboring area. For example, RP 754 outlines four safety indicator tiers and how a refinery should use them to determine its safety. Facilities with incidents that cause serious consequences from an uncontrolled or unplanned release have lagging performance per the scale. These sites should create indicators to prevent those types of incidents in the future. When a facility’s most severe incidents do not have serious consequences but put the safety systems to the test, they will have a tier 3 indicator. These facilities perform decently but should examine their safety guidelines and standards to prevent similar incidents in the future. Tier 4 sites have the best preparation for incidents and may only need to change learning or management systems to maintain their good record.

Mechanical integrity rules are only one of the 14 components in the standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These rules ensure the equipment operates safely and as expected.

Other types of process safety guidelines include rules for maintaining operational safety and preventing releases from both temporary and permanent buildings and reducing the risk imposed by worker fatigue.

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Implementing Incentives and Disincentives

While having safety standards is essential to all refineries, workers must have incentives to follow the rules. However, use caution when creating such programs because OSHA forbids all employers from discriminating in any way against workers who report injuries or illnesses. Therefore, refineries should have a rewards and punishment system that does not discourage reporting of incidents. Instead, OSHA suggests the following ways to incentivize workers toward creating a safer plant:

  • Giving away shirts or other small prizes to those serving on workplace safety committees
  • Providing rewards or small prizes for workers who make health and safety suggestions
  • Rewarding those who identify near misses or safety hazards in the facility
  • Offering a celebration or party for all employees at the end of a safety training session for the entire company

Disincentive programs can be difficult to implement within OSHA guidelines. By their nature, they punish workers for sustaining injuries or reporting problems. This type of disincentive violates OSHA’s requirements. Therefore, facilities may find greater participation in safety programs through positive reinforcement by incentivizing safe practices and reporting unsafe situations or operations.

Creating a Goal-Focused Safety Plan

Those at a refinery in charge of creating the safety plan must first establish goals for the program. Every guideline and rule in the plan should point toward these goals. One place to start with creating goals is by examining the refinery’s safety performance over the previous year. Goals should include ways to close gaps in safety or to prevent incidents that occurred. For instance, minor incidents such as slips and falls may require goals that include increasing training, adding more signage or installing non-slip floor coatings where possible.

Goals should have a basis in realistic expectations and include measurements for determining their success. For example, a refinery may want to reduce workers’ compensation claims spending by improving safety. Looking at the expenditures before and after increasing safety standards or training can provide the data required to see how effective the changes proved to be.

Another metric that a company could use might be the number of incidents over a given period. To see if the changes implemented actually reduce the number of slip and fall incidents, look at the numbers over one month or six months to see if a decreasing trend occurred. If the safety amendments worked, the accident rate should drop.

Additionally, as incidents occur throughout the year, refinery safety managers should review and revise safety guidelines and make goals for the following year to prevent and reduce injuries and incidents.

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Find Out More at MACH Engineering

Process safety includes reducing the release of dangerous emissions from a plant. Our emission-control systems and components can match the needs of a plant and its new safety standards. For more information on how our products and services can adapt to a safety plan, contact us at MACH Engineering.