With the constant daily news, either through social media or related on line editorials of yet further redundancies and possibly more to follow in the future within the Oil & Gas industry – some 300,000 last year in Texas alone – it is now time for personnel involved for ensuring the wellbeing of Oil & Gas facilities to take a serious look and possibly review their Corporate Incident Management Guidelines within their particular organization.
Unfortunately some Oil & Gas companies have literally laid off thousands of personnel and regrettably the culling of Oil & Gas staff sadly continues. BP have recently announced that they will let 4,000 employees go in 2016. For all of these huge organisations involved with either the upstream, downstream and refining operations, it is an extremely worrying time for the industry.
The Effect on Levels of Fire Safety from Redundancies in the Industry
From my own recent observations and personal experience of those Oil & Gas companies having to make a reduction in personnel, they initially started to make layoffs from supporting contracting companies. We are not talking here about painting and decorating contracting companies, but more highly skilled engineering contracting companies who in some cases have worked on a particular facility supporting the full time company staff maintenance crews for years.
On one occasion, I was talking to a contract electrical engineer who had been working at the same facility but for five different contracting companies during a 20 year tenure. The engineer in question was extremely experienced and knowledgeable regarding particular plants and the site as a whole. He also formed part of the site ERT (Emergency Response Team) supporting the full time industrial fire and rescue department. Regrettably he has recently been laid off by his current contracting company and takes all that site knowledge with him.
From my own personnel experience on one particular project, the PTW (Permit to Work) office occupied approximately 30 personnel and only 3 were actual full time company employees! The importance of the ever-dwindling numbers of personnel whether that be contactors or permanent staff on site throughout a 24 hours period could have serious consequences for the safety of a particular site. If there was ever a need for heightened fire safety on Oil & Gas facilities… it’s right now!
As a full time professional firefighter, working and responding to emergency incidents at sites of some of the best known names within the Oil & Gas industry, small fires and leaks of either liquid or gas have been identified, alarm activated and initially dealt with by either the actual plant personnel, or maintenance crews who are working on, or close by to the section of plant effected.
Full time company employees and contractual staff play an “essential and integral” part of being the eyes and ears ensuring the safety and wellbeing for all within their organization. With numbers of site personnel being constantly reduced, I think it is now imperative for all refinery and industrial sites to review their current IMGs (Incident Management Guidelines) that could be affected by decreased numbers of site personnel (including those of contactors) in the event of an emergency.
It is now that the full time or volunteer ERT (Emergency Response Teams) on large industrial facilities need to justify their importance in supporting the corporate safety policy. So what can professional industrial responders do to ensure that they are supporting the Corporate Safety Message?
Each Oil & Gas site will vary in the way it approaches the current situation but a general approach should include:
- Ensure that the IMG’s / pre-incident plans are updated with any applicable changes that may be affected through a reduced number of site personnel. If those aforementioned personnel formed part of the ERT crew then it could have a detrimental impact during an actual incident.
- Review the telephone call out roster of both full time and contractual staff which may be required in the event of an emergency. Its serves no point in having those names and telephone numbers of those personnel who have recently left the organisation.
- Replace those ERT members who have left with existing personnel. Conduct an internal recruitment campaign for more current on-site personnel to form part of the on-site ERT team. Organise refresher fire extinguisher training to ensure the competency of those working in high risk parts of the plant.
- It is essential for both fixed fire suppression and detection systems to be inspected by the site Fire & Rescue department to ensure their operability in the event of a required activation. Again, if these areas have had a reduction in plant staff then it is critical to ensure that visual inspections are conducted at the earliest opportunity.
- I have previously experienced that these inspection responsibilities fall under either contracting companies or the site maintenance department. If this is the case, then it would be advisable to ensure that these personnel with this responsibility are still in place. I would recommend that all testing and all inspections “were possible and with the relevant training” should fall under the supervision of the Industrial Fire & Rescue department.
- Currently I have reviewed a system which constantly monitors the level of CO2 in banks of cylinders protecting high valued assets such as remote sub stations and generator rooms. This system can be wired directly into the fire station or security alarm room which provides a fully recordable account of the status of CO2 site suppression systems.
- At one of my recent projects there was a reduction to the Industrial Fire & Rescue department and the site contractual staff. One of my first actions was to liaise with the on-site contractual security department and implement more patrols of the site. The site inspections also included members of the fire team ensuring that as a department we moved from a more reactive role to a more preventive role insuring a heightened level of site protection.
Fire & Rescue Teams are both an essential and integral part of any large Oil & Gas facility. It is the front line, and in many cases, the only line in which senior management can rely upon when a site incident occurs. Just because the Oil price is currently less than $30 USD a barrel, it does not necessarily mean that emergency incidents will STOP.
On the contrary, with the ever decreasing numbers of personnel, and those who are currently left within the industry worrying about their futures (force low morale), that all of these factors added together could be a contributing factor for further incidents. Therefore it is the responsibility of large corporate decision makers to ensure that the site Fire & Rescue team have both the CAPABILITY & READINESS to deal with any incident irrespective of the price of a barrel of Oil.
If you think a Professional Industrial Fire & Rescue Team is expensive to maintain, then try having a major incident! This is a critical factor to keep in mind as corporate decision makers and all others in the Oil and Gas industry long for a product price recovery – remember when Illinois sweet crude made in June 2008 peaked at US$136 per barrel.
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