It’s easy to get bogged down in statistics and procedures when companies talk about safety. But that’s the last thing INEOS wants, as Simon Laker explains
THOMAS Edison once famously said: Hell, there are no rules here, we are trying to accomplish something.
As a company, INEOS rather likes that concept. It thrives on being different and applauds its staff for taking calculated risks.
But when it comes to safety, the rules cannot be broken. They are there to protect people – both inside and outside the business – from harm.
“No one should ever go home from INEOS with any injury, let alone a life-changing injury, or worse still, not go home at all,” said Simon Laker, INEOS Group Operations Director who is based at Lyndhurst in the UK.
Its rules about safety are there, not only to be understood, but championed by all.
“Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the spirit behind what we are trying to do,” said Simon. “We are not machines. Decisions have to be made by people and getting those decisions right every day is how we stop injuries and major process incidents.”
Although each business in INEOS is responsible for its own safety programmes, INEOS also adopts a group-wide approach to safety because similar incidents can happen at any one of its sites and the sharing of best practice is critical.
“We don’t rely on luck,” says Simon. “Safety is the conscious management of risk. Ensuring people do not get hurt relies on the assessment we make of risk and the decisions we take to eliminate or mitigate that risk. If we get those wrong, someone gets hurt.”
INEOS’ most frequent and serious incidents have led to a number of safety initiatives across the Group, which employs more than 17,000 people at 65 sites in 16 countries.
In 2012 it introduced the 20 Safety Principles after analysing eight years of incidents in INEOS alongside significant events outside the company, including the explosion at the Buncefield oil depot in the UK in December 2005 in which 43 people were injured when thousands of gallons of petrol overflowed a storage tank and caught fire.
INEOS’ root causes – and solutions – to ensure an incident doesn’t happen again are enshrined in those 20 principles, and every three years all sites are audited to ensure that what needs to be done, is done.
“We have reviewed all the serious incidents since the 20 principles were introduced and have found that the incidents occurred because one or more of the principles were compromised,” said Simon. “From that we believe that if everyone implemented and adhered to the 20 principles we would eliminate all people and process incidents at INEOS.”
Best practice is shared through its INEOS’ group guidance notes. It currently produces 16 notes that cover everything from managing corrosion to identifying safety critical alarms, and it is in the process of producing three more.
“All three have been driven by repeat incidents concerning these critical activities,” said Simon.
Together the guidance notes and safety principles act as a powerful tool to help keep staff focused on what needs to be done to keep everyone safe from harm. And it’s a continual process of training, feedback and auditing.
But accidents do still happen.
“We aren’t yet perfect,” said Simon. “But we must strive to be.”
Specific holes – areas where INEOS noticed that accidents were still occurring – have now been plugged with seven life-saving rules which were introduced due to the potential for serious injury in these areas.
Anyone who flouts one of those rules, which cover everything from working at height to drinking alcohol at work, faces instant dismissal.
Over the past six years INEOS’ safety record has improved threefold. But despite a reduction of OSHA injury frequency from 1.13 to 0.4, Simon says that lessons are always there to be learned.
Group SHE alerts – simple, one page descriptions of any accident and what actions have been taken to avoid it happening again – are widely circulated.
So too are HIPOs – high potential incident alerts – where something could have gone wrong, but didn’t. They are equally as important and shared across the Group.
The chemical industry will always be, by its very nature, a potentially hazardous place to work but by following the rules, accidents can be avoided.
And Simon remains positive about the future.
So can INEOS stop all injuries?
“Absolutely,” he says. “If a work activity is fully risk assessed by knowledgeable people, if those risks are mitigated and a conscious decision is made to accept any residual risk as tolerable, then nothing should ever go wrong.”
He said unfortunately staff did not have an infinite amount of time to risk assess, so a conscious decision had to be made to stop looking once an acceptable level of risk had been reached.
“When this is an unconscious decision, it’s just luck as to whether a significant risk is left or not,” he said. “If we have missed something then we rely on a robust ‘nearmiss’ reporting system to find the problem before it results in an incident. This is why ‘near-miss’ reporting is so important to keeping people safe. We don’t rely on luck.”
And can INEOS prevent all process incidents?
“Absolutely,” says Simon, “if we have well trained people running well-designed, inspected and maintained plants, within known operating envelopes. If any of these are not correct, either through lack of knowledge or a wrong decision, then at some point a process incident will occur which usually means a release and from then it’s just luck how bad it gets. If we find we are outside our sphere of knowledge, then we have to stop, make the situation safe and involve people who do have the knowledge. We do not rely on luck.”